Join hands and volunteer abroad!
I volunteered with Projects Abroad last summer in Moldova, and although Moldova's location is the source of many questions, the one I get asked the most is: "OMG! Weren't you scared?" The truth is, yes, I was actually terrified, but it was the best choice I have ever made. That is why if you are thinking about volunteering, interning or studying abroad, don't wait - just go for it.
Getting Cold Feet - Don't Worry It's Normal!
My decision to volunteer in Moldova was easy, to be perfectly honest. I knew that I wanted to go somewhere different and the program I found (read my Projects Abroad review!) seemed to be a perfect fit for my interests. The aspects of the program that were most attractive to me include: the homestay experience, control over which project I worked on, the ability to create my own lesson plans, control over my level of involvement, and the opportunity to collaborate with other volunteers.
About a week before I was scheduled to depart, reality set in and my feelings began to change. Now I know that I was just getting a case of cold feet, but at the time, it felt a lot worse than that. I started having an overwhelming feeling of terror. My internal dialogue read a little something like this: "What was I thinking?? I don't speak Russian or Romanian. I don't know anyone in Moldova and worst of all, I hate flying (seriously, I've developed eye twitches on past flights). Why in the name of all things holy did I think I could do this!?" But a week later I got on a plane, did not die in a horrific crash, flew to Moldova - and had the time of my life.
Overcome your fears and make new friends!
The Experience of A Lifetime
My time in Moldova was incredible, enlightening, inspiring - pretty much choose your own positive adjective to describe something that is completely indescribable and it will hold true. However, even more significant than the fantastic time I had teaching in Moldova is the fact that I learned so much about myself. I came back home a new person. I have always considered myself to be a fairly confident person, but after my time in Moldova, I was empowered. There was nothing I could not do and I wanted to share my experiences with everyone.
My time volunteering abroad helped me realize what I wanted to study in college. Moldova inspired me to study international relations with a concentration in Eastern European politics and society. I met so many students overseas who wanted to improve their access to study abroad programs in the United States because it would give them a competitive advantage in the global market. So in order to help them achieve their dreams, I would like to someday make it easier for students to study abroad in the U.S. as well.
Granted, I still have not quite worked out how I am going to change the world, but at least I have a direction and inspiration. I can't promise anything, but chances are you will have a life changing epiphany and by the time you come home from volunteering abroad, you will look at the world differently.
Do something totally unexpected with your life.
Although it may be hard to bite the bullet and go, here are my top three reasons why you shouldn't wait to volunteer abroad:
- Travel and volunteering expose you to new ideas. It doesn't make a difference where you go, but no doubt you will be exposed to different cultures and practices which can be inspirational and that has the power to be life changing. There is no other experience like giving your time to a cause in a new culture.
- You will see the world differently. Volunteering abroad opens your eyes to what is beyond your little community and your comforts by allowing you to experience new things which you never would if you stayed home.
- You will see yourself differently. When you volunteer abroad, you are forced to take a look at yourself and your life. What could you do to make the world a better place? What impact do you have on others around the world?
Volunteering abroad may not make you feel the way I did, but it will change you for the better, even if only in a small way. I genuinely believe that traveling and volunteering are two of the best things a person can do for himself or herself. So if you find yourself thinking about traveling, but maybe are feeling held back by your concerns, my recommendation to you is just go for it - you will thank yourself (and me) later.