What is a typical volunteer abroad daily schedule like in project?

Volunteer abroad schedules are very different to tour/travel groups where a small group will be led by a leader. Volunteer abroad daily life is much more flexible and varies between projects, countries, seasons and many other factors. Generally, you can expect 4-6 hours of work daily, starting after breakfast (8-10am) and ending in the afternoon (2-3pm). Evenings are usually free time which most volunteers use to go to an internet café, explore the local area or even just to rest.

Here are examples of the daily schedules of some major volunteer abroad programs around the world:

Teaching Peru

7am - Breakfast
8am - Start of your volunteering day, assisting local teachers or teaching alone
1pm - lunch with host family
2pm - leave for Spanish class
2.30-4.30 am - Spanish class
7:30pm - dinner with host family

Buddhist monk Nepal

5.30am - Begin your day with Puja (prayers)
7.30 am - Breakfast
9-11 am - Educational time and first session of English classes
11-11.30 am - Tea time
11.30-12.00 - Tibetan class continues
12:00 - lunch time
2-4:00 pm - educational lessons
4:00-4:30pm - tea time
4:30-6:00 pm - Refreshments and evening Puja
6:00pm - Dinner

Orphanage India

8 am - Breakfast
8.30 am - Volunteers help to prepare and serve breakfast
9 am - Children go to school and volunteers help with cleaning and planning
1 pm - lunch break
2pm - volunteers free to visit local market or access internet
4pm - Children return from school. Volunteers teach English, maths, conservation hygiene or other subjects 7pm - Dinner

Turtles Costa Rica

Volunteers run several night shifts in order to supervise the nesting turtles. The secondary project is an in-water project, meaning you'll be out on boats checking the turtles while they are in the water. It is rather difficult to specify precise hours.

Will there be any orientation before the project starts?

Yes, the vast majority of volunteer organisations run a comprehensive orientation lasting 5-7 days which may include language and a complete training program for volunteer life. Some will just give basic information on safety, project life and volunteer responsibilities.

Please check with your volunteer organisation for details about the orientation as you may want to do some of your own research beforehand if the orientation is likely to be brief.

Can I change my project I am dissatisfied?

Most small and medium volunteer organisations are very flexible and likely to help you to change projects. Larger organisations however, tend to be more rigid in their rules.

In both instances, the availability of projects will always be a factor. During summer it can be particularly difficult to find space on a new project as most are likely to be full. Therefore always choose your project carefully.

How many hours do I work?

The number of hours you are likely to work depends on country, project, season, nature of host organization. Most organisations are relatively flexible on the actual hours that you work. Generally you will find that you are working 4-6 hours a day, 5 (occasionally 6) days a week. This is usually spread out evenly either side of lunch time, giving you the afternoon after 2-3pm free.

Will I have free time? What can I do in free time?

You will most probably have free tie in the afternoons after you finish your project and on the weekends. Volunteers usually spend their free afternoons chilling out, getting coffee, exploring the local area or heading to an internet café to catch up with friends and family. On weekends you may be able to take longer trips, away from the town you are in. Check out guide books and websites or talk to your country coordinator for more information. They may even be able to help you organise something.

Can I work in more than one project?

This depends entirely on the type of project and distance you would need to travel. For example, you could work in an orphanage in the morning and teach in a school once the kids leave for school. Obviously this is only possible if both are located in the same town.

However, if you are working on a medical or a wildlife project, it is unlikely you will be able to combine with another project Regardless, you should check with your volunteer organisation before you go to see if this possible and whether or not they will charge an extra fee.

Who supervises me if there is any problem?

As mentioned in an earlier article, most volunteer abroad organisations work using one of two models. In the first model, the organisation will hire all staff and rent homes themselves. In the second, the organisation actually acts as a middleman for a local volunteer organisation. In this case, the head of the local organisation will help you.

When you arrive at the project your work will be overseen by staff working on the project. However, in most cases you will find that after orientation takes place and your responsibilities have been explained, you will be left work independently. If at any point you have a concern or doubt, you will be supported by the staff or coordinator of the local project. This will be made clear to you when you arrive and if you have any doubts, you should make sure you ask.

Will I be working with other volunteers?

This depends on the size of the organisation and also the season. Generally speaking, the larger the organisation, the more volunteers you are likely to find yourself working with. In particularly small organisations and in low season, you may find that you are the only volunteer on the project.

What will the distance between my project and accommodation be?

This varies greatly between projects depending on the type of project, where your accommodation is located, the location of the placement (village city), traffic and many other factors.

You may be a short walk from your project or you may find yourself an hour's bus ride away. Make sure you check this information with your organiser as you may need to factor in transportation costs.

How do I commute? Who arranges it?

This depends on the same factors as mentioned in the above question. Most volunteers are a short walk/bike-ride from their project or travel by local buses. In some cases, your fee may include private transportation between the project and your accommodation.

Can I extend the project if I like?

As mentioned before, smaller organisations tend to be more flexible to changes such as this whereas larger organisations are likely to restrict you to decisions you made when booking. This will also depend on the season and availability of spaces on the project after your time is up.

Is there any dress code?

The answer to this is both yes and no. Your organisation is unlikely to impose any strict dress code on you whilst you are working on your project. However, it is important to take into account the culture of the country you are in. You are likely to be working in far more conservative cultures than you are used to and should plan to bring appropriate clothing. Generally this means nothing too revealing (particularly for females). Also remember that, unlike in some resort/tourist areas, it may not be appropriate to walk around in swimwear, even if you are by the beach.

For those of you working with children, remember that you are expected to be role-models and should dress appropriately.

You may even want to consider local dress to fully appreciate the culture.

Will someone be there to help while I am in the project?

This is answered in greater detail above but generally speaking you will have a supervisor who will oversee your week and answer any questions you may have. However, expect to find yourself working alone once your duties have been assigned and explained.

What can I do on weekends?

Generally, volunteers use weekends to take trips out of town, maybe even staying overnight. Once you meet your fellow volunteers, you will probably end up taking these trips together. Ask your supervisor or in-country support if they can organise any trips, give you any advice or put in you in touch with drivers/tour companies. Travelling in groups is likely to be both cheaper and safer.