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Volunteering Abroad Will Ruin Your Life

Take the easy way out.

Editor’s Note: The article you are about to read is to be taken extremely seriously and is no way an Onion-style satirical piece. This article is the 2nd in a multi-part investigative series about the dangers of spending meaningful time abroad. To be safe, we recommend reading part 1: Why Studying Abroad Will Ruin Your Life.

Despite – and partially due to – the increased popularity of volunteering abroad, people rarely discuss the darker side of helping the less fortunate. Recent surveys show that only 99.4% of people are happy with their volunteer experience. That leaves 0.6% who weren’t. We at Go Overseas think that’s a risk not worth taking. Instead, we recommend staying close to home. It’s safer and the only way to be sure. For your next vacation, choose one of the following three options: Disney World, a cruise, or an all-inclusive beach resort. These might be more expensive, but they won’t challenge your world-view, and you certainly won't need to help anyone. They’re also likely to have room service and all you can eat seafood buffets. Most volunteer programs in Africa won’t.

“Volunteering abroad was the most uncomfortable experience of my life. I had to leave half of my wardrobe at home and eat processed food in economy class. Then my iPod and my iPhone died ten minutes after I arrived at my village – and there was no electricity, so I couldn’t even count down the days ‘til I left. Look, I know people say these are first world problems, but they’re still problems.” – Ingrid Andres (Berkeley)

Face It: You Can’t Help Everyone

We live in a really big world. You probably hear people talk about globalization all the time. The 7 billionth baby was born last year. You can’t help everyone, so why even try? You probably don’t believe in karma anyway, so there’s nothing to worry about. Recent volunteer Nadia Boyer shared her thoughts about volunteering in Kenya, “I volunteered in an orphanage for a couple weeks. I worked with about twenty kids. I think I really helped them, but there are thousands more, maybe millions. What’s the point? That’s also the reason I don’t vote.”

Take a shower, hippie.

You Might Learn Something About Yourself

You know those days when you’re depressed because you don’t like your hair or shoes? When you agonize over not being able to afford those new jeans or a fancy video game? We all experience those types of days. Let’s keep experiencing them. Spending time volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, or on an eco-tourism project in Costa Rica, might change your life. I like my life. I like Netflix, American Idol, and sausage wrapped pancakes. We stress out about things that feel real. Why challenge that?

Different Cultures are Frightening

People in other countries rarely speak American. As Stephen Colbert & Rush Limbaugh point out, if the locals aren’t speaking American, they could be saying anything. Why put yourself in such a threatening situation? Even the silly accents in England and Australia can be confusing. They don’t even know what football is. Most countries don’t need help and already have their own volunteers. For example, twelve-year-old Sibu Sandakan of Indonesia volunteers seven days a week. Sibu is clearly very happy and doesn't need silly Westerners to volunteer to teach him English.

Ethnic Food is Strange

Give your taste buds a rest. Though your stomach might tell you foreign food is delicious, your mind will tell you that it’s different – and different is bad. Comfort food, like generic and processed American-style fast food, can be very difficult to find. Bland chain restaurants are less common in foreign countries and most eateries are owner-operated. This makes your everyday dining experience unpredictable. Why place added stress on your life? Stay home and keep it simple. Tucker Dunkle recently returned from a volunteer trip to South America and shared his feelings on the subject, “I couldn’t find a KFC or McDonald’s for days. I had to buy food from local shop owners every day.”

Foreign Languages are Confusing

Who says you need to travel to another country to learn about the local culture? HDTV can be very educational. You can be condescending to the locals in the comfort of your own living room, without the inconvenience of a 10-hour flight. Said would-be-volunteer Vidya Rios, “I’ve seen Hotel Rwanda and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. I know all about Africa & Asia.”

Wow. Looks painful.

American Style Vacations are More Fun

Have you ever been to an all-inclusive resort or spent a week on a cruise? I have. It’s like a slice of heaven on earth. Let me sum it up for you: all you can eat, all you can drink, beaches, the ocean, massages and more drinks. It’s perfect for “getting away.” Volunteering abroad is the opposite of “getting away.” It’s grounded, it’s real, and it connects you to the world we live in. It might make you question your values and direction in life. It will almost certainly make you feel very lucky. Volunteering can be equal parts exhausting, depressing, inspiring, and life changing. That sounds risky to me. I’d much rather sit on the beach for a week working on my tan, reading People Magazine, and mimicking Corona commercials. I believe it was Patrick Henry who said, “Give me strawberry daiquiris or give me death.” – a motto to live by.

In conclusion, why challenge yourself when the status quo is so much easier? Steve Jobs once said, “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” Most people think Steve Jobs was a silly, uncreative man, and I certainly agree. I say, “Stay Stagnant. Stay Comfortable”. That’s the more appropriate quote. It’s the easier path, and it’s the one most of you who read this article are likely to follow.

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Photo courtesy of Visions Service Adventures.

Mitch Gordon, CEO of Go Overseas

Like you, I am passionate about traveling and experiencing different cultures. I first traveled to Taiwan to teach English and instantly fell in love with its friendly people and delicious food. My aim is to model future travel after the motto of this website, "Travel with a Purpose". After participating in a program abroad, make sure to come back and leave a rating and review on this website. User ratings and reviews are the most important resource on Go Overseas, so give back to the community by leaving a review of any program you have participated in.