Eastern Europe encompasses many countries, languages, and groups of people. While each country will have its own unique story and traditions, you'll find a similarity in the types of food, clothing, music, and general atmosphere in many areas of Eastern Europe.
Most of the major cities will have elements of Western culture while still maintaining their own heritage and culture. If you plan to travel or stay in the smaller towns and villages, you will hear less and less English and see fewer restaurant chains.
No matter your background or interests, there are opportunities to volunteer in Eastern Europe. This guide will help you find a program that fits just what you're looking for.
Where to Go
From Czech Republic to the west and Russia to the east, your options for volunteering in Eastern Europe are widespread and varied. You will have options to live near the mountains, the sea, or even both.
When planning how long and what time of year to go, keep in mind that many programs like youth camps, farming opportunities, and renovation projects are only offered during the summer. Summers in Eastern Europe can range in temperature just like across the United States but pack in layers and you should be all set!
The Czech Republic offers positions to volunteers from around the world in a variety of fields. The most popular opportunities are in environmental (farming and conservation projects) and humanitarian (medical and social) industries. This is a country filled to the brim with arts, history, and deep traditions. There are options to volunteer to help keep these traditions vibrant and strong.
You can find information on specific volunteer programs by going directly to Czech websites (many of which are in English). You can also find international organizations that offer volunteer options in the Czech Republic. Also, check out this guide to volunteering in the Czech Republic for more great information.
If you decide to volunteer in Russia, you will find the widest variety of options in St. Petersburg and Moscow. In either one of these cultural capitals you can find positions teaching English, working with wildlife, creating art, or volunteering in an athletic avenue. You can also find positions in healthcare or work with youth in camps, schools, or orphanages.
You'll find plenty of English language speakers in the major cities, but it's a good idea to practice some of the basic phrases before you go. Living in Russia will be cheaper than living in the United States but keep in mind that you won't be able to earn money there without a visa that allows for it. Budget ahead of time and do your best to stick to your plan.
A hot spot for history, delicious food, and culture, Poland has much to offer volunteers and visitors of all kinds. As with many other Eastern European countries, teaching English is one of the easiest ways to volunteer in Poland.
You can also choose to restore synagogues or work with children by playing sports or doing arts and crafts. No matter how you choose to volunteer, you will gain a deeper understanding of the Polish way of life and inspire meaningful conversation between cultures.
Eastern Europe offers volunteer opportunities for people with a wide assortment of interests and backgrounds. While most volunteer programs don't require previous experience, it's a good idea to choose a position that's going to fit well with your specific set of skills and background. This way both sides of the placement get the most out the experience as possible.
For current or future doctors, counselors, and really anyone who wants to work directly with people, there are opportunities to do so in Eastern Europe. You could decide to shadow a nurse in a Russian hospital or help with the refugee crisis in Hungary.
You can find volunteer options in this category that will last anywhere from a week to over a year. Many colleges and universities offer short-term, faculty-led, service learning projects abroad. You'll spend the semester gaining relevant knowledge in the classroom and one to four weeks putting that knowledge to good use abroad.
One of the most common ways to volunteer in Eastern Europe is to be a live-in English tutor. You would be able to stay with the family for as long as the program specifies. This type of volunteer opportunity offers a wonderful chance to get to know people as it is part of your job description to talk to your host family.
There are also options for those who want to teach English to children or adults in larger groups but you will most likely need to have a background in teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) or a degree in English. Some programs will provide the necessary training for you for an additional cost.
If you like working with your hands and being outside, you won't have any trouble finding a place to volunteer in Eastern Europe. You can work on renovation sites restoring castles and churches from past centuries. What better way to support the community and learn its history at the same time? You'll meet locals and people from all around the world in the process.
If renovation work doesn't appeal to you, there are plenty of farms that offer work to international volunteers. Whether you've got years of experience planting and harvesting or this will be your first foray in the fields, it's sure to be a rich and rewarding opportunity to learn, help the local community, and meet people.
Another option is to spend your summer as a camp counselor. There are all kinds of camps in Eastern Europe that take full advantage of the beautiful landscape of mountains and lakes. Adventurers can hike, camp, and boat with children with special needs or those who are at-risk.
Creative and Performing Arts
Eastern European countries have deep and colorful roots in the creative arts. You can help preserve traditional dances, songs, clothing, and stories by volunteering with cultural centers, museums, and summer camps.
You might end up teaching or helping with classes. You might be able to help make costumes or sets for shows. Maybe you'll perform yourself. Or maybe you'll have the chance to do a little bit of everything! What better way is there to learn about a culture?
Planning Your Trip
Most volunteer organizations will arrange your housing for you. You will often have the opportunity to stay with a host family. Many families hire live-in tutors or nannies. Other options include hostels, hotels, and apartments. Check with the organization to see if accommodation is included in the cost of the program.
Any adult who works with children in the United States is required to have a background check. The same is true for many international volunteer organizations. If a volunteer placement program requires background checks, resumes, and other relevant information, this is probably a sign that they want to provide quality service for those who need help.
You can also check to see if your program offers job and/or cultural training. If you're going to teach English, for example, you will probably need to take part in an intensive language and teaching training. Sometimes these sessions can even be completed online.
Visa requirements vary by country but as a volunteer you should have an easier time than those going for paid work. The U.S. Department of State website has visa information on every country.
Depending on which program you choose, the cost for volunteering in Eastern Europe can range from $200 to a few thousand. The wide range depends heavily on the length of the program and what's included. Some organizations might only provide the placement and nothing more. Some will provide the works: training, housing, food, airfare, and in-country transportation.
A good organization will very clearly list what's included and what's not. Program reviews are a great place to start when narrowing down the cost versus the benefits.