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10 Things You Didn't Know About Volunteering Abroad

Volunteering in Peru

Thinking about volunteering abroad? There’s a whole big world out there to explore but before you do, take the time to learn about volunteering abroad as an industry and as an experience. There may be some surprises out there that you didn’t expect…

From planning your trip to making the most of your time abroad and dealing with culture shock to assimilating back home, there are so many important aspects of volunteering abroad that are hard to plan for, even if you've tripled checked that pre-departure to-do list. That’s why it’s especially important to learn all about your options and your travel experience before you go. There’s lots to learn so this is a great place to start before planning your volunteer abroad trip!

1. Volunteering Abroad Isn't a New Trend

Formal volunteer abroad organizations started decades ago - there was the Peace Corps in 1961 and church mission trips before that for example - but the act of community service in a foreign country has been around for much longer. People were compelled to travel, share their expertise or learn new skills, and become immersed in a culture.

2. Anyone (Who is Passionate and Hardworking) Can Do it

Having fun volunteering

There’s no age limit, no required experience - all that’s require is just a willingness and openness to learning and helping however you can. From high school students to families to retirees, there are different volunteer opportunities for every generation and skill level.

No matter what your age, budget or skill sets, you can find the right volunteer program for you. Some organizations and programs cater specifically to different age groups, and some are only for volunteers with experience in the given field. Whatever your situation may be, there are of volunteer abroad options out there that may fit your needs so do the research to find the right one for you!

3. It Helps You and Your Host Community

Of course, the difference between volunteering abroad and traveling abroad relies on community service and giving back to others, but there is even more to it. While volunteering and helping others you will also be helping yourself. You will be having fun, you will learn a lot, and you will change as a person. The experience is different for everyone so whatever may happen, it will sure to be positive in the end.

While volunteering and helping others you will also be helping yourself. You will be having fun, you will learn a lot, and you will change as a person.

4. Volunteering Abroad Can Be Cheap or Free

Sure, it costs money to travel but volunteering abroad doesn’t have to break the bank. Some programs are more expensive than others but if you are looking for cheap you can opt out of some of the comforts and ease of programs for planning more of the details yourself. Contact a trustworthy NGO and volunteer your time; that way you can find your own cheaper houses and food options. You may even be able to volunteer for free! Volunteering abroad on your own is usually best for the more experienced travelers.

Whether or not you go through a formal volunteer abroad organization, there are always more things you can do to stay on a budget.

Riding an Elephant

5. You Can Volunteer Abroad Anywhere

That’s right - you can go anywhere! So many wonderful places to go and so little time. So throw a dart at the map or narrow it down by what you’re looking for. Big city or rural village? Somewhere remote, even Antarctica? English-speaking, Spanish-speaking? Somewhere budget-friendly? Somewhere with a need for doctors? You name it!

One of the best parts of volunteering abroad is finding and exploring something you’re passionate about. Volunteering abroad gives you the chance to get up close and personal with an important cause/social issue that speaks to you. You also have the chance to explore a new culture you’ve always been curious about or intrigued by. Want to try a new type of cuisine or a new language? This is the perfect opportunity to fit all of your interests into one trip!

6. You Can Customize Your Volunteer Experience

Everyone has different volunteering needs and wants. Maybe you want to learn a trade while you travel and give back? You aren’t confined to just volunteering on a trip. Volunteering abroad can be done in coordination with studying, teaching, interning, or taking a gap year while traveling. Clearly, there are plenty of options to choose from when volunteering abroad; so don’t be afraid to get specific and be picky about what you’re looking for!

You aren’t confined to just volunteering on a trip. Volunteering abroad can be done in coordination with studying, teaching, interning, or taking a gap year while traveling.

7. You Can Volunteer Abroad Multiple Times

Many people who try volunteering abroad are compelled to do it again. Whether it’s for a long weekend or for a year, it becomes part of your life. Once the travel bug gets you and you know what it feels like to spend time giving back in another country, it will be hard not to do it again. Each experience is new and different and exciting.

8. Volunteering Abroad Can Open Doors for You

Medical Volunteering

After volunteering abroad, you will notice some ways your experience can help your future. Students can sometimes get college credit and it definitely helps a resume. Employers love to see well-rounded, philanthropic-minded, culturally-knowledgeable candidates. It also makes you appreciate the comforts of home and all that you have.

9. Good Intentions Aren’t Always Enough

Unfortunately, bad things do happen to good people. There are rare cases where volunteering abroad hurts a community more than it helps it. This is why it’s so important to know how to measure the impact of volunteering abroad, and to get the community on board and involved in the volunteer projects.

Not only that, but it’s so important to do research on the volunteer companies and projects before traveling around the world to support them and make sure they have the traits of a responsible program.

It’s so important to do research on the volunteer companies and projects before traveling around the world to support them.

10. The Benefits Don't Stop When You Go Home

An amazing experience like volunteering abroad is sure to be unforgettable. It will also continue to affect you in great ways throughout your life. Sadly, it’s been years since my last volunteer abroad trip but that doesn’t mean I don’t still learn from it -- in fact, the list of things I learned from new cultures and new experiences continues to grow today.

Go Go Go! Volunteer Abroad!

Obviously, volunteering abroad is a vast topic and a wonderful experience. No matter how much or how little you know about volunteer travel, there’s always more to learn and share. Hopefully, you’ve learned a little more about it and are excited about the possibilities!

Katie Boyer

Katie is a Bay Area native who studied public relations, journalism, and Spanish at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, CA. Follow Katie Boyer on Twitter, and Google+.