Volunteering abroad has the potential to be one of the greatest experiences of your life. It may sound clichéd but many volunteers genuinely feel that their volunteer experience was one of the most memorable events in their life. It is a time when people get the opportunity to experience a completely new culture to their own first hand and not just as a tourist. At the same time, you have the opportunity to really make a difference to someone’s life. In this article we will give you some tips on how to get the most from your volunteer abroad experience in order to make it truly rewarding.
What are common foods? Who is the project going to be helping? The more you know about your destination, the less overwhelmed you will feel when you arrive. Also, you will often find that people from small countries or villages are often very impressed when visitors know anything about their local culture.
Nobody is expecting you to be fluent in Hindi the day you arrive, but you’d be surprised at how appreciative people are when you try to communicate with them in their own language. Download language-learning app Duolingo and try and pick up some basics. Maybe even get yourself a small phrasebook or bi-lingual dictionary.
Volunteers have a tendency to keep their problems to themselves as they don’t want to bother anybody or they don’t want to look like they can’t handle the experience. In most cases, genuine problems can be resolved with little to no disruption if you talk to your program co-ordinator. If ignored, small issues tend to escalate until somebody finds out or sometimes, volunteers leave projects early. Your coordinator is there to help you!
There is a certain section of volunteers who go into their volunteering experience expecting a luxury vacation. When you are in a developing country, no matter advanced they may seem, you cannot expect the same creature comforts of home. Expect power cuts, poor internet connection and sudden traffic disruptions. Life in developing countries is a lot more unpredictable than life in the U.S.A. or E.U.
As I mentioned in the previous point, you will find that things can happen unexpectedly in the locations you are likely to be volunteering in. Just consider these all as part of the experience. You have a unique opportunity to experience a different way of life for a while. Enjoy it!
Whilst I don’t want to go down the road of saying all developing countries are dangerous, you should be aware that as easily identifiable foreigners you may be a target for some crime. There is often the idea that people from Europe, The US, Canada etc. are rich and whether or not you consider yourself to be wealthy, you do have some items that are probably worth a lot more in the country you are volunteering in. Avoid walking around with items such as a smart phone, passport or large amounts of cash and listen to all instructions about where you should or shouldn’t go. Volunteers are not purposefully put in dangerous situations but you should be aware nonetheless.
Use your free time to visit the local town or village. Ask your host family if there are any local sites you should visit and what the locals do with their free time. Tell your host family that you are interested in trying local delicacies if possible. Try to use your weekend to travel further afield, again your host family or the local volunteer staff can advise you on this and your fellow volunteers will no doubt want to join you.
You are one person working on a project for a number of weeks or maybe even months. Real change takes a long time to have noticeable effects and you should have realistic expectations for what you can change during your time on the project. Your contribution will be appreciated and the results will be felt at some point. Try to stay in touch with the project so you can see the progress of the project.
Your host family and the community you are living in are likely to be very interested in your life and your culture. Unfortunately, too many volunteers arrive with a somewhat superior attitude. Nobody’s culture is better or worse than anybody else’s. Volunteer abroad gives you the unique experience of living with people from a completely different culture to your own which should be viewed as a great opportunity to learn and share.
Whilst you will no doubt have time to explore the country you are in, you are not on a vacation. Your primary reason for being there should be to volunteer. This means having the right attitude and contributing as much as you can. Always arriving late or slacking off during duties will not endear you to anyone. Remember why you’re there!
The main thing to remember when embarking on your volunteer abroad experience is just to have the right attitude. Go in with the right mind-set and you will leave with memories of a truly rewarding volunteer abroad experience!