Despite Europe's small size, it is one of the continents with the largest number of countries, cultures, languages -- and yes, volunteer abroad opportunities. Because of Europe's cultural diversity, volunteers have the option to pursue volunteer projects in education, social development, environmental conservation, architectural conservation, and agriculture (um, WWOOF much?). No matter what you choose, volunteering in Europe will be sure to take you on a unique and life-changing journey, not only for the volunteer but also for the people whose lives you will touch. But which one of its 50 countries should you volunteer in? Here are our top choices below:
Iceland is not usually at the top of volunteers’ lists strictly because of its remote location and well-educated population. However, volunteers shouldn’t be so quick to overlook this beautiful country. Iceland is one of the only countries in the world that stresses education while being quite under-developed. Volunteers are very much needed in order to help Iceland reverse its financial situation.
One of the most popular areas of volunteering in Iceland is environmental conservation, where volunteers can head to the magnificent glaciers to work on reducing the effects of global warming, or work by the water to clean the coastline and restore the fishing industry. Volunteers can also get involved in community development, as Iceland is largely considered to be a third world country. Assisting at rehabilitation centers, teaching children English, or working with the local governments are a few of the many ways volunteers can make a difference in Iceland.
Suggested Volunteer Programs in Iceland
There are many volunteer opportunities in Spain because it is such a diverse country. Spain is ideal for volunteers interested in environmental and marine conservation, as the Spanish shores regularly experience heavy damage because of its huge tourist population. From beach restoration to assisting in dolphin and whale research, conservation volunteers will never be bored.
Conservation does not stop at nature, however. Volunteers can also help restore castles and other medieval fortresses, churches, and historical buildings with architectural volunteer programs in Spain. Volunteers are also always needed for education support, such as teaching children English, or preventing children from dropping out of school at an early age by assisting students with their schoolwork and after school activities.
Suggested Volunteer Programs in Spain
Greece is without doubt one of the most beautiful countries in the world. The breathtaking Mediterranean environment draws more tourist attention than most of its neighboring countries and people flock to Greece to discover its history, natural beauty, and delicious food. However, Greece is currently in a deep depression, with very high unemployment and education rates. Volunteering in Greece is the perfect place to make a substantial impact while enjoying the warm weather and unique delicacies.
Because much of Greece’s population is unemployed and uneducated, community development is a great area to volunteer in. Volunteers can teach English to children and adults, work with locals to obtain better jobs, and help make the quality of life better for Greeks. Volunteers who have any type of medical background are also very much needed to improve Greece’s healthcare system. Because public healthcare spending has been drastically cut, locals have to use free clinics, most of which are charity-run and desperately need proper aid. Volunteers can be helpful at all levels and in all healthcare fields -- doctors, dentists, and first responders are all needed.
Suggested Volunteer Programs in Greece
Located right in the center of Europe, Germany is often referred to as the melting pot of Europe. With natural beauty, centuries of history, and numerous languages and cultures, Germany is a popular country for students, travelers, au pairs, and, of course, volunteers. Germany also contains some of the largest cities in Europe, which means there are always improvements and expansions happening.
Even though Germany is a very developed country, its several large cities still contain impoverished areas. One of the best volunteer routes is teaching English, especially to children. Like Poland, Germany stresses the importance of learning English, as it is spoken almost as much as German is. Speaking English helps Germans become even more successful in business, medicine, law, and politics, so volunteers, especially native English-speakers, are in very high demand.
Suggested Volunteer Programs in Germany
Again, just because a country is developed, it doesn't mean there aren't opportunities for volunteers abroad. In France, volunteers will have several project options to choose from. From the ever popular volunteering in a vineyard with WWOOF, to teaching English as an assistant teacher or tutor, and from working with refugees to helping with architectural restoration, there are enough volunteer projects in France to meet anyone's skills and interests. Unlike lesser developed areas, it's also a popular area to find a work exchange, where you exchange work for room and (sometimes) board. A volunteer's dream, right?
Best yet, volunteering abroad in France will allow you to brush up on that high school French and get to know the world's most visited countries beyond the usual tourist haunts.
Suggested Volunteer Programs in France
Rich in history, culture, and beauty, volunteering in Poland will be a unique experience. Because the country has gone through so many changes in the past few hundred years, tradition and modernity coexist better here than in many other European countries. Despite the many geographical and political changes, Poland is ethnically homogenous -- about 98% of inhabitants are Polish, and with such an intensely rich and in-tact culture, it is an ideal option for someone looking to immerse themselves in another culture while volunteering abroad.
Volunteers can support [Jewish cultural revival] through synagogue renovations, community events, and efforts to revive the Jewish culture and life.
While Poland is not in as deep of a need for volunteers as some of its neighbors, the demand for volunteers, especially within the education field, remains high. Teaching English is the best option for volunteers in Poland, as the use of English is widely promoted and an essential component of development. Another option for volunteers is to work in cultural revival, particularly in the Jewish community. Volunteers can support this culture through synagogue renovations, community events, and efforts to revive the Jewish culture and life.
Suggested Volunteer Programs in Poland
From teaching children to speak English to assisting marine research, volunteers in Europe are sure to make a difference in their host community and return to the US having made a difference in themselves as well. Instead of just vacationing for a week in the Mediterranean or the Alps, try fully immersing yourself in a unique culture and truly changing someone’s life. Volunteer in Europe!
Photo Credits: Hristina Mangelova and Rebecca Marie Murphy.