Ah, high school. That wonderful-yet-awkward time in life filled with pep rallies, group projects and 15-minute waits for the bathroom pass. While everyone has their own opinion about the teenage years, high school students are a truly special group. When you’re in high school, the world is full of possibilities. You are young, filled with energy and a sense of optimism (hopefully!), knowing that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. Why not put that abundant energy to good use and do something that’s both meaningful and fun?
Have you heard of the nifty new term “voluntourism”? It’s a pretty awesome concept - you could travel to Senegal and help dig a well in a small rural community, help build a school in Ecuador or maybe work with elephants in Thailand. Voluntourism, or volunteering and traveling abroad, is a pretty brilliant experience, no matter your age. Volunteering abroad while still in high school, however, is even better - here’s why.
1. You will finally burst your high school “bubble”
It's easy for students in high school to become wrapped up in their own little world. For many, life consists of homework, sports practices, SAT prep, hanging out with friends and keeping up with the weekly who’s-dating-whom game. While each of these things has value in its own way, it’s easy to become so engrossed in your high school experience that you become blind to what’s going on around you. Hence, the “high school bubble.”
Volunteering in another country as a young student is the perfect way to *pop* this metaphorical bubble. When you’re living in another country and experiencing a different culture first-hand, rather than reading about it in a textbook, the day-to-day high school drama falls to the wayside. For many students volunteering abroad, it’s as if their blinders have finally been removed, and they are able to see the world that exists beyond the bubble.
When you’re living in another country and experiencing a different culture first-hand, rather than reading about it in a textbook, the day-to-day high school drama falls to the wayside.
2. You will have the opportunity to really get your hands dirty
When I was in high school, my life consisted of constant SAT prep, homework, dance class and socializing. I had never experienced any hands-on, physical labor - just ask my mom and dad! Before my senior year of high school, I volunteered with a school-building project in Ecuador. It was the first time I had ever really gotten my hands dirty: helping to dig the foundation around the school, carrying buckets of dirt across fields and sanding endless roof tiles. It was hard and humbling work.
For the majority of people who volunteer abroad, it will be the first time they perform physically demanding and challenging labor. The work may be hard and strenuous, but is worth it. You’ll develop a sense of understanding and appreciation for the amount of labor that goes into such projects, and develop a respect for the people who perform these tasks on a daily basis.
3. You will gain a sense of independence and maturity
If you’re volunteering abroad in high school, it may be your first experience traveling without your parents, or maybe your first time traveling, ever. And that’s awesome. You’ll be away from family and friends, which can seem scary at first, but you'll will have the opportunity to meet many amazing new people from around the world. Maybe it will be your first time flying solo, exploring a city on your own during downtime, or simply packing your own bag and keeping track of your own belongings. I can’t think of a better way to develop a sense of independence and learn to trust your instincts than via travel.
Traveling when you’re younger, especially if you’re visiting a developing nation, can be challenging. The language may be unfamiliar, the food may be different, and daily basic amenities, such as running water, may be unavailable or limited. Your mettle will be tested like never before, but you will come out a more mature and independent person having faced these challenges. I bet you’ll even get used to the new way of life!
I can’t think of a better way to develop a sense of independence and learn to trust your instincts than via travel. Your mettle will be tested like never before, but you will come out a more mature and independent person having faced these challenges.
4. You may decide what you want to do with your future
If mom and dad are hesitant about letting you spend the summer in Costa Rica volunteering with sea turtles, tell them it may help you decide what career path you’d like to pursue - parents love to hear that kind of stuff! Volunteering abroad can help you narrow down your interests. Maybe after volunteering in a hospital for a month in Kenya, you’ll decide that medicine is your passion. After volunteering in a school and community center in Peru, you may decide to study education and help make it available for children worldwide. Or maybe you’ll volunteer with panda bears in China, and return homing dreaming of working with those cutie-patootie bears as an adult.
Volunteering abroad will expose you to many new experiences and potential career paths you have never considered, or even heard of, before. Trying to decide what kind of job you would like to pursue is a tough decision, and it doesn’t always match up with your childhood dream. But wouldn’t it be awesome if after volunteering abroad in high school, you discover what you are truly passionate about? It may help you decide what you would like to major in during college. And don’t forget, putting your volunteer experience on a college application will look great. That’s right, mom and dad, letting Lindy Sue volunteer on a nature preserve in Australia might help her get into college. Better start packing your bags!
5. You will gain a sense of global perspective and understanding
Alright folks, this is where it starts to get deep. Everyone’s experience abroad will vary greatly, depending on what country you are volunteering in and what your project entails. The one thing I will guarantee is that after your trip, you’ll start viewing the world differently. Volunteering abroad may be the first time students are confronted with difficult issues such as a lack of clean water, prominent disease, general poverty or endangered wildlife. After experiencing these various challenges, it’s easy to put things in perspective and prioritize what is truly important to you. You’ll become aware of an important issue you previously did not know about. Whether it is food security, lack of medicine and education or an endangered animal or environment, your ideas will change. You will no longer be viewing the world from the safety of your high school bubble. You will have gained a global perspective, and an understanding of the cause you volunteered with. This global experience and sense of empathy and understanding is something that will hopefully stay with you for the rest of your life.
Volunteering abroad may be the first time students are confronted with difficult issues such as a lack of clean water, prominent disease, general poverty or endangered wildlife. After experiencing these various challenges, it’s easy to put things in perspective and prioritize what is truly important to you.
Suggested Volunteer Abroad Programs for High School Students:
Check out these opportunities to volunteer abroad.
- Global Routes in Tanzania
- Global Leadership Tanzania
- VISIONS in Nicaragua
- Projects Abroad in Nepal
- Lifeworks in China
- Global Leadership in Ghana
- Lifeworks in Thailand
- Projects Abroad in China
There is never a bad time to volunteer overseas. At any age, working abroad and experiencing a different culture and way of life is an incredible experience. Volunteering abroad while you’re still in high school, however, has some amazing benefits that can help shape your future and the person you are growing into. Put down that hall pass and pick up your passport, an amazing adventure is headed your way!Photo Credits: Sarah Morgan and GVN.