Do you want to make a difference in the lives of others? Do you want a unique cultural immersion experience unlike any other? Are you interested in experiencing a different walk of life? Then you should look into volunteering abroad. Service programs are offered all over the world, primarily in urban areas and developing communities. There are all kinds of programs, so be sure to find one that fits your interests, skills, and language abilities. Here are a few tips on choosing a volunteer program:
- Keep in mind what you define service to be. Whether that means you’ll give every ounce of physical strength to a project, or you’ll devote all of your waking hours to researching and pinpointing the sources of an issue, be sure that your values remain intact when looking at programs.
- Make sure your program provider is a nonprofit or not-for-profit organization. Voluntourism and volunteering are two different things, so make sure you know your provider’s goals and where your money is going.
- Study the language of your intended destination before you depart. Knowing the local language is ideal when working aside locals and having prior language experience is critical to developing longstanding connections with the people you meet.
- Immerse yourself. Form relationships with people, take part in local traditions, and listen to folklore and stories of people within the community. Many times, you’ll learn just as much from these as you do from your actual work.
- Know yourself. If you’re interested in medicine, volunteer with a medical program. If you like to write, volunteer to teach English at an elementary school. If you know what kind of project you want to participate in, then you’ll narrow down your options more easily.
- Read the fine print. Sometimes program providers will offer housing or benefits included in the price of the program, and sometimes they don’t. Know what you’re getting yourself into by reading between the lines and asking questions when necessary.
- Be open to learning. Volunteering is as much about awareness as it is about service. Learning is critical to a successful volunteer trip, so be sure to open your eyes, listen carefully, and remember your experiences wherever in the world you are.
Some great program providers for volunteering include:
Have you volunteered abroad before? I’d like to hear about your experience!