Is Volunteering Really for Me?

You may have been inspired to volunteer abroad for any number of reasons. It is an activity that is growing in popularity as it becomes more and more acceptable to take career or study breaks. You will no doubt have encountered a wealth of information about volunteering abroad. There are growing numbers of organizations offering you volunteer abroad opportunities and hundreds and hundreds of positive reviews, blogs and social media accounts giving glowing accounts of the volunteer life.

The fact that you are now reading this, means that you are now considering taking the step of volunteering abroad. The promise of a life-changing experience, making a change in the world can be pretty enticing. Nonetheless, it is important to make sure you are volunteering for the right reasons and have a realistic expectation of the volunteering experience.

Ask yourself the following questions which will help you decide

Does helping others bring you joy and fulfilment?

Regardless of what type of project you choose, when you volunteer abroad, yo will be helping others. You could be helping kids, adults, pandas or entire communities. Regardless, your job will be to affect a change. If you know that you truly enjoy helping others, then volunteering abroad is definitely for you.

Can you step outside of your comfort zone?

If you have grown up in North America, Western Europe or any developed country, you will no doubt have grown to expect certain amenities. Volunteer projects take place in developing countries where things that you take for granted such as hot water, air conditioning and a reliable internet connection may be unreliable at best. If you know that you will find I difficult to adjust to a different way of life, perhaps you should look into volunteer projects closer to home.

Do you have a specific goal or cause for volunteering?

Whilst it is not necessary to have a speciality subject area when volunteering, it certainly helps. Many volunteers first think about what areas they feel passionate about before they choose their volunteer project. For example, some people are very passionate about the conservation of the environment and seek a volunteering project which allows them to contribute to this cause. Others perhaps have some sort of specialist skill or knowledge that they wish to use for good. This can be anything from carpentry to medicine. Having an interest in an area no only means that the experience will be particularly rewarding for you, but also that you are likely to have at last background knowledge on the topic.

Do you have any skills to share?

There are no necessary skills or qualifications or volunteering besides passion and enthusiasm. No matter what your background may be, it will be possible to find a volunteer abroad project for you. However, there are definitely some projects which look for people who have skills to contribute. This may be obvious and specific such as having a teaching qualification in order to teach, or a medical background to work on a medical project. You will also find projects looking for more general skills such as arts and crafts, music or sport. Even if not specifically requested, you may find that when you arrive, volunteers are asked if there is any particular area in which they have useful skills. Make sure you list all skills and experiences you have, no matter how small when making your application so that your skills can be put to use where they are most needed.

Do you like meeting new people?

You will find yourself talking to and meeting new people from the moment you arrive at your destination. Whilst there may be certain projects where volunteers are working more or less alone, it is still extremely important that you get along well with different types of people. In any given volunteer project, you will find yourself meeting people from different countries, cultures and ages. If you know that you are the type of open-minded person who can find common ground with pretty much anyone, you will find the experience of volunteering abroad rewarding and enjoyable. However, if you tend to be easily-annoyed by others, perhaps volunteering abroad is not for you.

Do you really want to volunteer?

Unfortunately, there are those who look at volunteering as a more affordable way to travel and see the world. Your primary motivation for volunteering should be the project itself. Volunteering requires you to commit your time and energy. It is not simply a photo-opportunity and affordable room and board. You will usually be working as part of a team and if you are not contributing as much as you should be, then you will be making everybody else’s job more difficult and you will swiftly find yourself pretty unpopular with both staff and volunteers. If you want a holiday, go on holiday. Do not try to manipulate or take advantage of the volunteer abroad system for your own gains.