Volunteerism is one of the most valuable ways to spend your time, right up there with travel. Many people consider doing both by choosing to volunteer internationally.
Combining your wanderlust with volunteering can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but it’s best to prepare accordingly – for your benefit as well as the place you plan to serve.
Here’s a list of DO’s an DON’Ts to consider when you volunteer abroad!
Volunteer Abroad: What To Consider Before, During And After Your Volunteering Experience
Before You Volunteer Abroad
DO have a plan.
You want to volunteer abroad. Fantastic!
While it may be tempting to throw caution to the wind and book a one-way flight to a foreign land, we recommend making a plan.
Some things you need to consider:
Time. How long can you commit? Are you looking for a week of vacation? Summer break? A semester or year? The amount of time that you are ready to dedicate is important in determining where you want to go.
Budget. This may sound obvious, but volunteering means no pay. You’ll most likely be financially responsible for your day-to-day needs and travel. Do you have enough saved up to cover living expenses? Weekend adventures? Bills back home?
Personal Preference. Think about your lifestyle and what’s important to you. If you’re a city dweller who goes ballistic at the sight of insects, or you positively wilt in hot, humid weather, maybe a tropical destination isn’t for you. Even if you are generally laid back (and you need to be for travel!), you can still make your plans around your deal-breaker factors for a better experience.
DO your research.
Unfortunately, volunteering does not automatically mean making the world a better place. In fact, some volunteer “programs” are nothing more than harmful voluntourism.
Think about your skills or knowledge and see how it can match up to an organization’s needs.
Consider going abroad with a reputable program that takes the time to train, place and support their volunteer.
If you’re a working professional with the option to work remotely check out Venture with Impact, a social enterprise that arranges skills-based volunteering for professionals abroad.
DON’T be put off by a program fee.
“Why should I pay to volunteer??”
It often takes a lot of resources to receive, train and support volunteers, and those resources come out of the organization’s budget. A monetary contribution can indicate a more structured volunteer system, as well as true commitment on the volunteer’s behalf.
DON’T get stuck on your expectations.
Volunteering in another country includes cultural and language immersion, in addition to the actual work you’re doing.
There’s no way to know exactly what your experience will be like, so try to keep an open mind and be ready for anything!
During Your Volunteer Abroad Experience
DON’T be afraid to ask questions.
How does the schedule work? What does that word mean? When does the class start? What else can I do? Ask away, even if you have to act them out to break language barriers!
It’s often ok to ask about sensitive or embarrassing topics as long as you do it the right way. “Why don’t you eat vegetables here?” could be turned into a helpful conversation phrased as “Can you tell me more about local food?”
Sometimes, it can be helpful to breach sensitive or embarrassing topics by asking questions sooner rather than later. Think about how you frame questions that might.
DO be respectful with social media.
Of course you want to document your experience and share it with people at home, but you should ask for permission before you post images of children and adults publicly.
Instagram-worthy photo ops will abound, so try to make them as genuine as possible! Also, be sure to revise your captions or descriptions carefully – remember that your audience at home doesn’t have the same understanding of cultural context that you do.
DON’T forget that you are a guest.
Volunteering abroad is not a sacrifice, it’s a choice that you made. You were invited into a community and you will probably gain far more than you will give during your time there.
DON’T get discouraged.
As a volunteer, it’s completely normal to want to change the world for the better, and to be disappointed when it seems like you aren’t doing that. Remember that even the smallest action has the potential to brighten someone’s day, and that’s a positive change in the world!
Development is a lengthy process, so think of your time as a drop in the bucket when it seems like you aren’t making a difference.
After You Volunteer Abroad
Your volunteering stint abroad has come to an end. Now what?
DO tell people about your experience.
You did something unique, meaningful, and exciting – talk about it!
You will probably get the dreaded question, “How was your trip?” and polite nodding, but you will also find friends, family and colleagues who are genuinely interested in what you did overseas.
Share the good, bad, funny, emotional and surprising details through conversations, photos or the written word.
DON’T stop when you get home!
Maybe you made a sincere connection with your host country or organization. Just because you are no longer on the ground doesn’t mean you can’t keep investing your time and energy for their benefit.
Start a fundraiser or collect donations, spread awareness about the country or cause, see if there is a local organization doing similar work at home.
Maybe your host organization could use remote volunteer work through web design, communications or translating.
Your volunteering experience can have a profound impact on your life – keep up the momentum!
In conclusion? DO volunteer abroad! It’s a fantastic way to see a new place, discover another culture and make real connections internationally, and you can make lifelong friendships along the way.
Are you planning to volunteer abroad? Did you consider any of these points? Got questions? Leave a comment below!