One of the best ways to enjoy international student travel if you’re already taking a class at home or if you can’t afford to study abroad full time is to volunteer abroad.
Volunteering abroad entails taking an international trip to countries, mostly developing countries, around the world and offer your time, skills and labor for free. Volunteering abroad allows you to explore different countries and their cultures while giving back to the host countries.
Volunteering involves using your skills to work on specific projects that the host country needs help with. You also get to transfer your skills and knowledge to locals in order to help them continue making an impact in their country even after you’re done with your volunteer period.
Most students, especially university students, will usually take time off school to do gap year volunteer work. This period is often taken into account as part of their school work.
There are so many countries where you can consider to volunteer in. Most popular volunteer countries include Peru, Cambodia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Haiti, Brazil, Japan, Costa Rica, Vietnam, Australia, Nepal, Thailand, among others.
When you search online for volunteer opportunities you will come across numerous opportunities. However, most of them will require you to pay for the volunteer opportunity.
It doesn’t make sense to pay to volunteer your time and skills right? While most programs will have a justification for charging you to volunteer, as a student, the best way to get started on volunteer work is to look for free programs.
They may not be as many as the paid ones but they are there. You have to very cautious when searching for opportunities to volunteer for free because you could easily fall prey to scammers.
Here are a few things you should consider when looking for a volunteering programme, whether at home or abroad:
- Overall expenses: Even if you don’t get to pay to volunteer there are still some expenses that you will have. Make sure that you put these in mind when choosing a volunteer program.
Most free volunteer programs will not offer you accommodation, food or transport while abroad. You will also have to pay for your flights to the host country. Do factor in the cost of such expenses in your budget.
To reduce your expenses, try and find cheap student flights, affordable accommodation and probably consider staying at an apartment where you can cook your own meals.
- Your skills: When looking for a volunteer program don’t just go for any that comes up. Make sure that you align the program’s needs with your skills as this is the only way to make sure that the organization benefits from you and for you to grow your skills.
Also consider your interests, both career-wise and personal ones. Try and go with a program that is related to your interests. If you do you will find that you’ll enjoy your time abroad more and will be more eager to work with the organization.
- Timing: Consider the start and end dates of the programs. Go with the ones that fit your calendar well. You don’t want to sign up for a program during school session or when no one is in need of volunteers.
Find out the best time to volunteer abroad and plan to travel then. This will increase your chances of finding a good program and doing meaningful work.
- Your motivations: Why do you want to volunteer? What is your motivation? Is it part of your course requirement? Do you hope to learn a new skill? Do you want an opportunity to travel abroad? Do you simply have some free time on your hands and want to make use of it in a meaningful way?
Being clear about your goal will help you look for programs that will help you achieve that goal so that both you and the organization are satisfied at the end of the program. You will be satisfied that you spent your time, money and skill in a beneficial way.
- Sustainable impact: The goal for cheap affordable programs is to help the organization get skilled talent to bring change to the community they serve without having to dig deeper into their scarce resources. For this reason, don’t just volunteer so that you can visit a new country.
Your volunteer services should make a difference to the communities and have a real impact. Do know that you will actually be doing real work, it’s not all just fun and games.
You also need to ensure that the organization you choose to join is actually making an impact on the communities they purport to be helping. There are so many rogue volunteer organizations receiving funds from abroad and making use of skilled international students to benefit themselves instead of the communities that are in need.
Do some research and read online reviews on the different programs and lookout for fake student volunteer programs.
- Be committed: Be ready to invest your time and skills to the host organization. To be able to make the maximum impact you must be committed to giving the program your very best.
So before you leave home to go volunteer ask yourself if you are ready to stay committed to the program. It will be very disappointing to start a program and drop out before completing the period you promised to be available for no good reason.
- Be ready to put in some work: One common thing about free volunteer programs is that they are run by small organizations that cannot afford to tend to you personally. Be ready to do most of the homework by yourself to ensure that your volunteering goes smoothly.
While they may be able to offer advice, they make not be able to help you make accommodation or travel plans. Want to find free flights or the most affordable accommodation? This you will have to do on your own.
Now that you know what to consider for a volunteer abroad opportunity, it’s time to find the right program. So where do you start looking?
A quick Google search for free volunteering opportunities will give you a good amount of search results. This is one of the easiest ways to find a volunteering opportunity.
You, however, have to be careful when reviewing online results to avoid falling for fake opportunities. Research the programs that you find thoroughly to make sure that you choose a legitimate one.
Here are a few good volunteer abroad sites to check out for available opportunities:
- Social Media
Social media has become a very popular place to find lots of opportunities from internships to scholarships to volunteer opportunities. You can either search for available volunteer programs on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn using the search button or simply post on your accounts that you’re looking for open opportunities and your friends can help you find them.
Social media is full of people talking about volunteering and posting opportunities so you are guaranteed to get some leads here.
- Travel guidebooks
Some travel guidebooks often have a list of volunteer opportunities at the back. Here you can find contact details of the host organization.
Collect a few good options and contact them either by sending your application or asking for details about the opportunity.
- Online Forums
Online travel forums are another good place to find the best places to volunteer. Travel forums, such as Thorntree by Lonely planet have up-to-date information as well as advice from people who have done similar programs.
Such forums allow you to ask former volunteers any questions that you may have regarding volunteering abroad.
If you have a network of friends or family that live abroad or who have done volunteer work before, turn to them for help. Their experience will come in handy when deciding which program is best for you.
International volunteer projects vary from one organization to another. Some take a few weeks while others take a couple of months. The type of work you get to do also varies from one program to another.
There is really no one program that is better than the other. What matters is your objective for doing the volunteer program.
Let’s take a look at some popular volunteer programs and what they entail:
Working with children
This is one of the most popular volunteering abroad opportunities. Children projects include working with children based in orphanages. These could be orphaned or abandoned kids. You could also choose to work with street kids or offer general childcare for kids in need.
The goal of a program focusing on children is to offer these kids with a safe and secure environment to live in. As a volunteer working with children, you will do work ranging from teaching them basic skills, cleaning and cooking, helping with building structures such as schools and houses, playing or tending to the kids, among others.
This is another popular way of volunteering abroad. If English is your native language or if you have an English language qualification you can try your hand at teaching English abroad.
You will normally be expected to teach kids, young students or even adults basic English skills in speaking, writing and reading.
The medical field world over is always looking for people to help in various capacities. If you have a medical related degree this would be a great way to offer your time and skills.
You can volunteer as a doctor, nurse, healthcare worker etc. and assist the local practitioners in offering the much-needed health services especially in developing countries where resources are scarce and medical insurance unavailable.
Women empowerment projects
Women empowerment is still a fresh issue in most developing countries. There are numerous projects that focus on empowering women.
If you have an interest in women issues then you will find a home in such projects aiming at providing women with new skills to boost their lives. Most programs train women on language skills, sewing and handicraft skills, business skills, self-confidence, and leadership.
Wildlife and nature conservation
Wildlife and nature conservation projects are also quite popular in regions that have a rich wildlife ecosystem. Most popular conservation programs involve elephants, turtles, pandas, rhinos, and lions as well as conserving the ecosystem that these animals live in.
As a wildlife conservation volunteer your job will involve educating the surrounding communities on conservation, conducting research, collecting data, construction etc.
Volunteering for free is a great way for students to afford to travel abroad and offer their skills to those that need them while learning from the experience. Traveling abroad is a costly affair so if on top of that you’re required to pay more in agency fees then many students will miss out on such opportunities.
Without such fees, all you have to worry about is how to get to the host country and finding affordable international student accommodation.
You get to fully focus on offering your skills without having to worry about money. You get the chance to explore the native culture by spending your time interacting and working with the locals.
You still have to pay some money to be able to do volunteer work. While this money is not going to an agency or even the host organization, they may be a challenge to most students.
You’ll have to pay money for airfare, visa application, international travel insurance etc. This could cost you a few hundred dollars.
Volunteering a totally new country is not always a walk in the park. You will find yourself in a new culture, in a place where things are probably done in a different way from home.
Most students suffer from culture shock making their stay a challenging one. In cases where the program was free and you have to figure out most things on your own, this shock could make things quite difficult for you.
While it may not seem right to pay to volunteer sometimes it is the best thing to do. The reason why most organizations charge volunteering fees is that volunteers incur expenses.
If you’re a first-time volunteer it’s easier to join a paid volunteer program because the host organization will do most of the planning for you. This will make settling into the program pretty easy for you.
Paying to volunteer caters for things such as airport pick-up, assistance with the visa application, accommodation, program orientation, in-country support, local trips and even food. Most of the volunteer programs are run by non-profits who cannot afford to offer you such things for free.
Before you sign up for a paid volunteer program make sure that you fully understand what you are paying for because there are some organizations that require you to pay placement fees that don’t cater to any of the things that you will require once you start the program.
Choosing to volunteer abroad is a great way to make use of your time in a foreign country. Not only will you improve your skills and take your resume a notch higher, you will also make an impact on the communities you work with. So go on and give it a try today!