Are you debating the best way to spend time abroad? As a student or recent graduate, traveling to other nations offers a definite allure — which is why many young people choose to study abroad.
When it comes to exploring and understanding the world, however, having a meaningful travel experience means more than having an adventure — it means making an impact. When you attend school abroad, you’re able to interact and exist in another culture — but when you participate in service-based travel, you’re doing so much more. Whether you’re looking for a supplemental experience during your foreign studies or you’re considering an alternative travel option, here’s why volunteering abroad makes a difference.
1. You Explore More Unique Corners of the World
Although studying abroad is an exciting opportunity to visit a new country, it’s more likely that enrolling in a foreign university or study abroad program will take you to a Westernized or developed nation. College students tend to gravitate towards tourist destinations, with nearly 55% traveling to European countries like France, Spain, Germany, Italy and the UK.
While GivingWay has plenty of volunteer opportunities in these countries, they don’t necessarily offer you as much cultural learning as less prominent locations — and you don’t have as much to offer them, either. When you choose to make an impact with travel by volunteering instead of studying abroad, you’ll have the opportunity to explore developing nations and unique destinations you may have never considered. These areas you could explore will challenge your perspective and provide you with more chances and greater opportunities to inspire real change in communities.
2. You Gain a Global Perspective
Traveling abroad will inevitably change the way you look at the world. Whether you’re there to study or serve, the experience will challenge your global perspective, mindset and beliefs. Compared to school study abroad experiences, however, volunteering takes you out of the bubble of Westernized thought and introduces you to a different way of life.
Serving overseas will also open your eyes to global inequalities and social justice issues. You may even want to be more in tune with world events after you return home. World events strike a stronger chord in your heart if you’ve visited these places. Once you’ve been there yourself, you have a newfound deep connection and sympathy for the people dealing with these events — not just a detached interest.
3. You Connect More Deeply With the Culture
While study abroad ensures you’re more sheltered in a school system and less involved with the culture itself, volunteering immerses you in the environment you’re volunteering in. You’ll live like the locals, participate in their traditions, develop an understanding of their customs and learn deeply about the culture. Whatever your volunteer efforts entail, getting closely involved with a country and its people will give you a much stronger cultural bond than just studying in a city.
4. You Build Lasting Relationships
Unlike studying abroad, volunteering overseas allows you to do more than exist alongside locals — it enables you to truly understand them and become one of them. When you’re working to improve systems, bring resources or better the circumstances of the people around you, you’ll develop a deep sense of empathy. You’ll also have more authentic opportunities to interact and build bonds — both with your fellow volunteers and the people whose well-being you’re working to ensure.
5. You’ll Make a Difference
Traveling alone to a new place where English is not spoken will boost your confidence like nothing else. Learning how to communicate with locals and serve people in the ways they need will take you outside your comfort zone. But even more meaningful than expanding your own horizons is the fact that your volunteer work will have a direct, positive impact on others. You may not make massive changes all at once, but every action makes a difference for the country and the people you’re helping — and you’ll be making a difference too, something simply studying abroad won’t give you.
A Life-Changing Opportunity
Volunteering overseas is a valuable addition to or substitution for studying abroad. Service lets you do more than see new places — it allows you to dive deeply into other cultures, connect with local people, impact others and transform yourself.
If you are interested in devoting more than a couple of weeks or months to serving internationally, you may consider taking a gap year. Typically, students take a gap year between high school and college to travel, volunteer or focus on self-growth. Spending a full year on foreign soil will deeply immerse you in culture, tradition, the language and a new way of life. It also allows you more time to connect with people and make a bigger impact.
Whether you spend a short or a long time abroad, dedicating yourself to an overseas volunteer experience will do more than teach you — it will shape your life and others’.
Click here to find your next life-changing volunteer opportunity! 🙂
About the Author
Alyssa Abel is an experiential education writer who talks about study abroad, student opportunities and life experiences. Follow her work on her blog, Syllabusy.