Volunteering abroad comes in many shapes. You can volunteer as part of your job, work it into your travels, or even set up your own project. But possibilities are not enough when it comes to making an actual difference: volunteering abroad also requires making aware choices. Here are the 10 top volunteering abroad tips on how to achieve long-lasting change, but still having a well-balanced experienced. Whether this is your first volunteering abroad research or you already have a plane ticket, these are the tips to keep in mind:
Volunteering Tip#1: Be Wise About Your Venture
What’s your talent? What are you really interested in? These are surprisingly important questions to answer to just as you consider volunteer abroad opportunities. This makes finding the nonprofit organization you want to volunteer with much easier – because whatever the activity they have to offer – it should match your skills. Think about what can the nonprofit have to gain from your particular set of skills, and how it connects to your own interest in their cause. Just remember to consider your hidden talent (guitar teacher? secret rock climber?) that might be just what the organization is looking for.
Volunteering Tip #2: There’s A Difference Between Programs
With countless volunteering opportunities abroad, searching for the right fit for you can be overwhelming. An important factor to take into consideration is the type of organization you will be working with. Why? In short – costs and efficiency vs. exploitation. Volunteer-placement agencies charge high fees for the connection between volunteers and grassroot-organizations – promising a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Not only that the nonprofits do not benefit from these high fees themselves, which might even be a good thing, but these “programs” are in most cases exploitive, unsustainable, and even demeaning for local communities.
To avoid these programs, try and understand if the nonprofit is looking to create a sustainable change, or rather to make a profit. Make an effort to find and communicate with past volunteers. Be interested in the screening process done by volunteers. And when working with vulnerable children, find out more about child protection policies.
Volunteering Tip #3: Know Where You’re Going
Volunteering abroad is also an amazing gateway for cultural exchange, and knowing a bit, or plenty, about what’s happening in the place you are heading to is a definitive advantage. You’ll notice more nuances, catch up on food habits, make friends easier, and might even get your host to crack a smile. Learning something new is never easy; when it comes to places in need the stories we are told can be patronizing, making this process especially difficult. But if you try and put these stereotypes aside and get to know more about where you’ll be spending this experience, you might be surprised by how much you can gain.
Volunteering Tip #4: Expect the Unexpected
Most volunteers will tell you that volunteering abroad requires an open mind. Whether it is objectively changing circumstances or just a lot to handle, having a flexible attitude will come in handy! Try to look at everything as part of a learning experience, and make the most of every situation and opportunity.
Volunteering Tip #5: Be Reliable (Don’t Be Flaky!)
We all know how difficult it is making plans on the road – and this is particularly conflictual with the amount of responsibility you take upon yourself when agreeing to volunteer. Nevertheless, try and consider the nonprofit’s under-budgeted and under-staffed situation so that you are as clear (as your schedule allows you) about availability. Changes are more than understandable, but like any other commitment to an employer or project back home, give them a heads-up!
Volunteering Tip #6: Understand Why You’re There For
Even before you arrive insist upon understanding what assistance the organization is looking for, and expecting from you. It could be that you would like to offer a certain skill set but the organization actually needs something else – but this will enable you to meet each other’s expectations and do your assignment the best way possible.
Volunteering Tip #7: Find the Sustainable Solution
Always look for the long-lasting solution. As a volunteer, either for a day or 6 months, making actual change is possible but you have to consider the impact your presence has on a broader level. For instance, avoid taking up jobs from local community members – but rather, think how you can increase their productivity; after you’ve set up a computer class make sure there’s someone left in charge.
Volunteering Tip #8: Respect the Culture and People
Use this as a daily reminder to connect with those who will fill your days, inspire you, and challenge you in this experience. While you’re volunteering for a cause, there’s no charity here – both sides have much to gain, especially when the visitor in community/organization comes with an open mind and humble heart. Volunteering is Treating community members and fellow workers in the nonprofit with respect will get you far beyond any notion of rescue. Think of them as your collaborators in a cultural exchange; pay attention to how much you are gaining from this experience; be humble about your position and you might find yourself learning quite a lot.
#Volunteering Tip 9: Take Initiative, Be Independent
Volunteering can be an empowering experience because it encourages initiative and an independent approach when faced with a challenging task. Volunteering is not a job – meaning, there will be no one to boss you around (necessarily) and you can’t count on getting orders from anyone. The best question a volunteer can ask is “where am I needed now?” rather than “what should I do?”. Prepare yourself mentally and know that you will be faced with complex situations. This is scary for some – but if you were looking for volunteering in the first place you probably have a brave bone in your body, somewhere. Offer new ideas, see where you are needed, listen to problems – and look to yourself for answers. This can show you that trusting yourself will bring you to the solutions
#Volunteering Abroad Tip 10: Have Fun!
The MOST important tip for volunteering abroad – fun. Don’t let the challenge bring you down. Navigate your actions and activities towards where you feel accomplished and rewarded the most. The relationships you create and moments you experience can last a lifetime, so it is important that wherever you go and whichever nonprofit you choose to work with – bring out your own uniqueness and abilities. All sides will benefit.