• A Beginner's Guide to Volunteering Abroad

A Beginner’s Guide to Volunteering Abroad

Have you ever wanted to travel and make a difference at the same time? If the answer is yes, then this beginner’s guide to volunteering abroad will be perfect for you!

If you don’t know where to begin, I am here to tell you that volunteering on your next trip is one of the best decisions you’ll ever make.

Volunteering isn’t always what you expect of it, but it can be as wonderful or as terrible as you make it. So, it is important to do your research beforehand, and enter a project and organization with your eyes open and to have realistic expectations about what you can achieve.

Beginner’s Guide to Volunteering Abroad

Without further ado, here is your beginner’s guide to volunteering abroad – from a girl who has lived through it. I will break down where to begin, how to plan it, and what to expect once you are there. 

Part One: Getting there.

What do you want to do?

Let’s start with what you like to do at home, wherever your home is. Do you like to read? Do you love to draw? Is gardening your jam?  Are you a fanatic about animals?

Think about your skills and what you love to do in your free time, and consider how you can share those gifts with the world. These things you love are not hard to find, and most likely people are doing them all over the world.

Think about your skills and hobbies now, and how you can help others in the process. Do you have any language skills already, or any you want to learn? Consider all avenues, countries, and ideas in this initial discovery phase. There is no wrong answer here!

A Beginner's Guide to Volunteering Abroad

When do you want to do it?

Now you have an idea or two in mind of what you want to do if you were to volunteer. Next, depending on what that is, you need to decide when you want to go and how long you want to do.

For example, maybe you want to teach English in China, but you can’t commit to a full semester or year. Or you’d love to do rain forest restoration work in Peru, but it will be the rainy season the only time you can go.

Think about the days, months, or years you can commit to, and have that in mind as you begin researching organizations that do the things you love.  It will help you narrow down countries, groups, and programs. This also helps when you feel bombarded by options.

Research organizations to help

There are so organizations are out there to help you set up your trip, you just need to know where to look. To start, decide if you want to do it all yourself, or if you want the comfort of a more prearranged program setting everything up for you.

Popular organizations like those listed below are great options because they help you get set up with a trusted volunteer experience, and a place to live. If you consider doing it yourself, make sure you really vet the companies and organizations you want to work for on the internet. 

If you have specific organizations in mind that you want to volunteer with, them directly. They may have spots available that they don’t advertise on their website for volunteers.

They also might be able to answer questions that you have about what they do, and how you can help. And if you have a country or region in mind, start Googling! You never know what you will find, and what groups might pop up that need your help

A Few Places to Start:

These four websites are my go-to when I’m looking for volunteer opportunities around the world. They will give you a good starting point but always remember to do as much research as you can before you commit to anything.

IVHQ – International Volunteer Headquarters, grown to become the world’s leading volunteer travel organizations, working in over 30 countries around the world.

Go Abroad – a directory guide for study abroad, language schools, internships, and international volunteer positions. 

Go Overseas–  a listing and reviews website for programs abroad, including volunteer, teaching, and more.

Give a Day Global – connects international travelers with one day volunteer opportunities at nonprofits across Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America.

A Beginner's Guide to Volunteering Abroad

A Beginner's Guide to Volunteering Abroad

Consider your budget

Some people find this strange, but in some cases you must pay to go volunteer. Yes, pay to help. But this is when you use an organization or institute that help with the set-up, pick up, living situation, and more.

Consider your budget. Do you want to go and find your own place to live? Do you want to figure out your own food daily, or would you like this all taken care of through a host family? You must consider your budget, the amount of time you want to be gone, PLUS the expenses of traveling when you have time off.

AND A WARNING: Please don’t pay too much to volunteer

If there’s only one thing you take away from this then let it be this point. I cringe a little bit every time someone tells me they’ve found a great volunteer opportunity for one week taking care of elephants or as a teacher in an orphanage and it only cost them $3,000. Yes, sometimes these programs cost money – but you are getting the help of a seasoned professionals with placement and housing. If you don’t want that, don’t pay for it! Don’t pay too much for the help, but consider the worth of a reputable organization.

Yes, sometimes these programs cost money – but you are getting the help of a seasoned professionals with placement and housing. If you don’t want that, don’t pay for it! Don’t pay too much for the help, but consider the worth of a reputable organization.

Part 2: When you arrive

Where you’re living

Make sure, regardless of if you are traveling by yourself, with a friend, or a reputable company, you feel safe wherever you are living. Most likely you will be living with a host family and/or other volunteers.

Know from the start things won’t be incredibly comfortable at first (I mean, you are living with a bunch of strangers) but it does get better.You will soon develop a kinship unlike any other, because you are sharing a roof with new friends. And if not, you will at least come to appreciate the ins and outs of people’s daily lives.

It is amazing how similar we all are: we all have families with ups and downs, meals that feed our stomachs and souls, and laughter that can cure many problems. Be open to seeing other people’s dynamic day-to-day life.

Your project

Now that you have made it to the country of your choice, make sure you are assigned to a project that somewhat fits your needs. It may not be exactly what you are looking for, because volunteering is about adjusting to the needs of those around you. Find what you like, but know you may have to do things you don’t love at times. 

It is also important to be realistic in terms of what your work can achieve throughout your time there, as most projects will not see dramatic changes during a two-week or even a month-long volunteer stay.

Many projects take several years to show their impact. So please know that in advance, and don’t leave complaining or crying if you didn’t change the world in one week!

Other volunteers

Making friends with your fellow volunteers is going to be one of the best parts about this experience. So, it’s time to open up! Smile just a little more because these people from all over the world are just as nervous and excited as you are. Connect with them in any way you can, and they will be your lifeline when you start feeling a little homesick.

Part 3: JUST GO!

This part is simple. Or maybe it’s not. You are going to think of a million reasons why you shouldn’t do this. Could it be dangerous? Could you lose your job? Will your friends or significant other think you’re different when you return? Will everyone just think you’re crazy for wanting to travel and volunteer? You nor I can predict the future.  But I can tell you, once you make the step to do it. Whether it is step one or all the way, you will be better person because of it. So just go and take that step. Right now. I promise.  You won’t regret it.

You nor I can predict the future.  But I can tell you, once you make the step to do it. Whether it is step one or all the way, you will be better person because of it. So just go and take that step. Right now. I promise.  You won’t regret it.

If you have any questions about volunteering abroad, or just looking to connect with a fellow traveler, please join me at my blog Alittlebitadrift.com or email me at [email protected] I would love to hear from you, and help you along your journey! 

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A Beginner's Guide to Volunteering Abroad

2017-06-12T00:06:35+00:00

About the Author:

Rachel Jones left a career in nursing and lived on the beaches of Goa, India for the five years. Now she lives in Mexico where she gives advice on the 40+ countries she’s visited in the last 10 years. She’s the author of two India travel e-books: Guide to India and Insider’s Guide to Goa. Her blog, Werkenntwen, like its name, is a contradiction combining off-beat adventurous places with glamorous and bespoke travel. Werkenntwen has been featured in ELLE, Marie Claire, Grazia, and Cosmopolitan magazines. She’s a writer for Bravo TV.

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