If you’ve ever volunteered abroad you know we’re not exaggerating when we say that joining an overseas volunteering program will change your life. It’ll open your eyes to global inequalities, give you a greater appreciation for everything you have, and help you contribute to making the world a better place.
But as rewarding as it can be, volunteering overseas shouldn’t be an activity to take lightly. Along with the regular tasks of any other job, you’ve also got the added responsibilities of making sure you’re having a positive impact on the community, project or person. Wanting to make a difference must to be your number one priority in choosing any volunteer position, but that doesn’t mean you won’t personally get a lot out of joining an international volunteer program.
Dedicating your time, resources and expertise to any volunteer project in need is an admirable way to contribute to the bettering of the world. And in doing so you’ll also add to the bettering of yourself. Whether you’re volunteering for a gap year holiday, or a veteran of international volunteering, everyone can get a lot from taking the time to help others.
Breaking Out Of You Comfort Zone
If there’s one guarantee for volunteering abroad it’s that you’ll push yourself further than you thought you could. In your position you’ll constantly be bombarded with a plethora of ‘new’. New tastes, smells, cultures, ideals, lifestyles. The first week or so is most likely going to be a period of continually adjusting to this new way of life. You’ll be learning exactly what that mystery meat was from last night’s dinner and how to cope with the cockroach that lives in the corner of your room. You’ll get over your fear of speaking in a foreign language and get the courage to step up and take leadership role when you’re needed. Why? Because you have to.
Unlike traveling, where you can easily move on if you don’t like a place, as a volunteer you’ve made a commitment to an organization. Despite uncomfortable situations, you’ll need to power through and push the boundaries of your comfort zone. And you know what? You’ll be better off for it! You’ll look back on those mini-breakdown moments and laugh it off… eventually.
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Getting Back More Than You’d Planned
Going into your volunteer position you should be focusing on what you can give to the community and organization you’re helping. But what may be more surprising is how much you’ll receive in return. Volunteering abroad isn’t just about heading overseas and building houses during your spring break. It’s about connecting with communities around the world. Finding mutual interests and respecting our differences. It’s the little moments like learning how to weave from a Guatemalan abuela (grandmother) or dancing the traditional kuratsa with a family in the Philippines. It’s moments like these that you’ll remember forever. These are moments that you’d never have access to if you were just visiting as a traveler, disconnected from the true day to day activities of the culture you’re passing through.
Gaining Newfound Independence
There’s nothing like moving away from the comforts of home to a foreign country to kick start your sense of independence. Leaving all the things that were familiar and reassuring, to embark on a journey into the unknown! Not only will you be learning to adapt to new living situations, but you’ll now have to do it without the immediate support of your friends and family. It’s in these times that you’ll discover your true inner strength that’s been buried in there all along. Everyone has it, and taking on a foreign volunteering trip is the perfect way to accelerate its development.
Learning to navigate through a foreign place by yourself will prove that you are truly independent. And this newfound independence won’t only be useful while you’re traveling, it carries through your life in all aspects. Being independent helps you find the confidence to pursue things in life that you really want. Whether you’re pursuing a promotion, taking up a fun hobby or just taking the plunge on something new.
Learning a New Appreciation For What You Already Have
Perhaps one of the most life-changing parts of volunteering abroad isn’t what happens while you’re overseas, but rather when you return home. If you take a volunteer position in developing communities, it’s inevitable that you when you get back to your home country you’ll notice glaring differences. Not just in the standard of living, but also due to the consumer driven nature of more well-off countries. It’s also this consumer focussed nature that is having an extreme impact on environments all over world, as well as the animals that live in those environments. You’ll start to see that it’s all intertwined!
Wasted resources will drive you crazy and you won’t believe how much people take their privilege for granted. You’ll start to look at those little things you complained about in the past as incomparable to the inequalities in many countries around the world. Witnessing first hand the resourcefulness and resilience of marginalized communities will give you a new appreciation for everything you have.
This newly discovered appreciation isn’t intended to make you feel bad about living your life back home, but perhaps it will help you make more conscious decisions next time you decide to leave the water running brushing your teeth or spend $200 on that new pair of shoes. Or maybe it’ll encourage you to do a little more once you’re back home. This could be as small as buying from reputable companies that support fair trade practices, or donating money to organizations helping the cause.
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Making Life Long Friends
There’s no stronger bond than a bond shared over making the world a better place. Whether it’s with other international volunteers, local staff or families from the community, joining forces with others from different walks of life will produce friendships that last a lifetime. Friends back home will admire the stories you share, but only your new friends will truly understand the life changing experiences that you’ve been through. These friendships will stay strong over time and distance, regardless of how far or long it is between drinks.
Changing Your Mentality For life
While you may only have a few weeks or months to volunteer abroad, the impact it has on your worldview will last a lifetime. You’ll leave your volunteer position feeling empowered and inspired to do more good in the world. You’ll leave humble, knowing that just because you have the privilege of being from a developed country and receiving an education doesn’t mean you’re more skilled or knowledgeable than someone from a developing country. Rather, you have the privilege and opportunity of taking time off and traveling somewhere new, and instead of sipping margaritas on the beach, you’ve chosen to lend a hand. From here on out you’ll be more aware of those instances you can help out even in the smallest ways in your own community. You’ll search for a job that has a charitable component and you’ll always look for your next opportunity to travel and give back.
As you can see, along with helping the world, you can also gain a lot for yourself in the process. While this shouldn’t be your sole focus when choosing a volunteer program, it is important to enjoy your volunteer work and feel good about what you’ve done.