Do you want to travel overseas but don’t know where to start or how you will be able to afford it? Before finding a volunteering gig, you have to be clear why you want to volunteer–to change the world, to learn new skills, or to save money. One thing is for sure–the experience will change you.
Is this something that you’ve thought about but wondered if it’s really for you? It’s wise to research any decision that may involve leaving your family for an extended period of time and flying halfway around the world. But here are some reasons why you should face the fear, take the plunge, and go for it.
4. To make a difference
One of the main reasons people choose to undertake voluntary work is out of a desire to “help” in some way. This might be by offering assistance to those less fortunate than themselves, working to prevent and lessen animal cruelty, or by trying to minimize damage to the environment.
It’s so easy to feel helpless when we watch news reports about the devastating fallout for local populations of natural catastrophes like earthquakes, or when we read about the shocking impacts of deforestation on animals that inhabit wilderness areas. Volunteering empowers us to “do” something about a cause that matters to us and to contribute to righting some wrongs.
That’s why it’s important to choose a project that really inspires you. You may well be working long hours in difficult circumstances for little or no pay. Make sure that you care about what you are doing. It will make the experience much more worthwhile.
3. Because it will be an amazing experience
Volunteering or interning abroad allows access to places and experiences that are usually off limits to those just visiting a country on vacation. For example, working with endangered animals is usually restricted to veterinarians or biologists. However, sanctuaries and shelters are happy to welcome volunteers to help feed and care for their creatures.
You’ll also be working alongside, and interacting with, local staff who will give insights into their own culture and lives. You will become a traveler rather than a tourist. Expect to have your own perceptions challenged and changed– that’s part of the fun!
Free room and board is also frequently part of the deal. This enables you to spend an extended time in a country at relatively low cost, allowing you to really get to know a place. A rare privilege.
2. Because it will change you for the better
Many volunteers come back saying that their experience has helped them “grow” as a person. That they feel more independent and equipped for life having thrived in a completely new environment.
If you are volunteering in a developing or post-conflict country, you may experience the challenges that many of its population face on a daily basis. Be it finding water or just earning enough money to survive. Insights into the complex problems of other nations will make you more informed about global issues. The experience might even prompt you towards a career that you hadn’t thought of before.
Most people return from volunteering valuing the simple things at home, from living in democracy to having access to clean drinking water. They also have a greater understanding of other cultures and more compassion for those who experience hardship in their lives.
1. Because it will help you in the future
Look on volunteering as investing in yourself and your future. You will definitely gain a number of valuable skills to add to your C.V.
Besides the technical and/or academic side of the activities you will be working on, whether it’s teaching children or caring for animals, you will learn how to work as part of a team and to appreciate that people have different strengths and weaknesses–an important management lesson. It’s likely that will have to improvise and use your initiative to solve problems as they occur. You might find things you have previously found impossible at home are much more doable as a result.
If you’re working in a country with a different language, it could be a great opportunity to pick that up, or to improve a language you already know. This might determine the country you decide you want to work in. It’s amazing how much schoolroom French progresses when you have to speak it for 5 hours a day!
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you will return home with a catalog of magical memories and experiences that will never leave you.
Next Article: How to Find Volunteering Jobs Abroad. Feel free to message me if you need more tips on volunteering abroad!
This article is a collaborative post with Alex Bradbeer, the creator and author of Finding The Freedom website, an adventure travel blog focused on adventure and crazy off the beaten path destinations.