So you want to go abroad and help out by volunteering? It’s a great idea, and you’re certainly in good company. The popularity of volunteering is growing quickly, with more people each year replacing vacations with lengthy volunteering trips. It’s a great opportunity that allows you to make a difference while seeing parts of the world you might never otherwise get to.
How To Travel Abroad as a Volunteer
With interest in volunteering so high, it’s not too surprising that some less-than-scrupulous organizations have popped up to make money off of well-intended volunteers. Meanwhile, other organizations provide much more satisfying opportunities.
Here’s how to go abroad as a volunteer, choose the right organization, and avoid any potential problems.
Know the Costs of Traveling and Working Abroad
Every organization is different, but most nonprofit organizations provide some sort of housing and visa support to volunteers. On paper, it sounds like a free experience. Just know that costs can add up for you when you include flights, day-to-day expenses, and entertainment.
Even “free” volunteering opportunities end up having a cost, so just keep that in mind and plan accordingly.
Search for the Best Volunteer or Work Opportunities
When it comes time to find organizations to volunteer for, there are a lot places to start. Some people have their mind set on a specific region, while other people simply want to work with a certain type of organization (environment, education, arts, etc.). There are lot of sources out there, online and otherwise, when it comes to finding volunteer opportunities, so finding something that lines up with your interests shouldn’t be too difficult.
If you have your mind on a specific organization, check their website for a volunteer section to see what kind of candidates they’re looking for. Some big nonprofit organizations, such as the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism, list opportunities from all over the world, so the largest organizations are often a good place to start.
Think Twice About Paying to Volunteer
And now, a point of caution. A number of for-profit agencies are popping up that promise to hook you up with a volunteering opportunity for a fee. Their websites usually look pretty slick, and having someone else set up all the communications is convenient.
While many of these “partner” organizations are legitimate, there are a number of stories out there pointing out how these for-pay volunteer opportunities can be something of a scam, with volunteers stuck doing nothing but busywork. The DIY route of finding the right organization takes a little more effort, but it’s a far better way of making sure you end up volunteering at a trustworthy organization.
A personal favorite for finding volunteer opportunities is Idealist, which has thousands of listings from all over the world in their database. LinkedIn is also a great place to look, especially for more professional opportunities.
Do Your Research
When you find a promising opportunity, you need to do as much research as possible. Look into the country you’ll be visiting, and get a sense of what life is like there. Expat forums and Facebook groups can be very helpful for answering any questions you might have and making sure you aren’t overwhelmed on arrival.
Now’s also the time to do research on the organizations you’re hoping to volunteer for. Look at their annual reports and mission statements to ensure that their values align with yours. Check watchdog websites like Charity Navigator to make sure everything from the organization is above board. This due diligence ensures that you’ll end up at a great place.
Leverage Your Skills
When people think of volunteering abroad, the idea of building schools or digging wells comes to mind. In truth, such tasks probably aren’t the best use of your time or the organization’s. The truth is, most organizations can find much more qualified people than you to do work that you don’t have any experience in.
When reaching out to an organization, highlight any relevant skills you might have that could really benefit the organization. Maybe your expertise in social media could be used to raise money through marketing. Or perhaps you could train staff in computer programs like Excel. These are the types of tasks that organizations would welcome, as they’re often too short-staffed to do such things on their own.
Learn the Language
Odds are you won’t need many language skills while volunteering, thanks to the staff you’ll have helping you, but knowing even a little of the local language makes a world of difference. Not only will everyday tasks like shopping and getting directions become a lot easier, but the staff will quickly warm up to you if you’re making an effort to learn. When you decide on a country to visit, start learning key words to make the most of your time abroad.
Prepare for a Life-Changing Opportunity
When it comes time to disembark, be ready for a whirlwind of new experiences. It truly is an exciting time, and if you’ve done everything right, you’ll be in for an unforgettable time. Enjoy it!