Whether you're just starting your journalism studies or are already qualified and looking for your next career move, volunteering abroad in journalism can be a stimulating and worthwhile pursuit. Many foreign correspondents started their careers by simply going overseas and starting to report as freelancers.
It's also a volunteer arrangement where the benefit clearly runs both ways: the publication or organization hosting you will benefit from your skills, training, and knowledge and you will learn how real-life media organizations are run. This experience will set you apart in the field and put you in a good position when applying for jobs.
Read on to learn a few important things you need to know about volunteering abroad in the journalism field.
Where to Go
With good written and verbal communication skills, the world is your journalism volunteer program oyster. Here are a few destinations to consider, just to get you excited about all the possibilities.
India is an extremely exciting destination to volunteer in journalism because it is simultaneously home to dozens of native languages and is the second-largest English-speaking country in the world (after the U.S.A.) There are numerous grassroots media projects on which volunteers can gain experience learning and writing/reporting about rural, developmental, and justice issues. Or, on the other end of the scale, there are stylish urban publications, for an entirely different media flavor.
English-language print media internships are possible in Dar es Salaam, the capital of the East African nation of Tanzania. Whether you've had previous experience in print media or are totally new, opportunities can be found in Tanzania. Once you've finished your internship (or during vacation time) you can head to the tropical off-shore island of Zanzibar, or scale Africa's highest mountain, Kilimanjaro.
London is a major center of the Anglophone publishing and media world. Internships or volunteer placements in the heart of the U.K. are extremely sought after, but if you can land one, the skills you'll learn and connections you make could propel your career to the next level!
Internships at newspapers, magazines, TV stations, and other media organizations can really help turn your classroom training into applied, real-world knowledge. While interning at a newspaper abroad, for example, you may get the chance to join reporters out on assignments, fact-check stories, proofread, and even write for a blog or the print version of the paper. Interning can be an invaluable stepping stone between the student phase of your life and the employee phase. Interning abroad will give you an even greater level of knowledge of the media industry through a global lens.
Internships can either be arranged directly with the media platform/publication by reaching out to them personally or through an organization that will take care of the logistics for a fee.
Freedom of Speech, Anti-Censorship & Human Rights Work
The media faces free speech and transparency issues around the world. Some organizations work specifically on strengthening free and fair media and advocating for journalists. For example, Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) works to utilize the power of the media to combat human rights abuses and to empower the media to effectively and accurately report on human rights issues. They work primarily in eastern and southern African countries. Volunteers can work with them from two weeks to a year.
Planning Your Trip
The logistics of your journalism volunteer abroad program will largely depend on where you want to go and for how long.
How to Choose a Journalism Volunteer Abroad Program
Before choosing a journalism volunteer program, learn more about whether the work you'd be doing would be in print or broadcast (TV or radio) journalism. Volunteer work is available in both media in a variety of places. If you know your skills and interests lie in writing and editing rather than speaking live on air (or vice versa), then you don't want to be stuck in the wrong kind of program for you. Alternatively, you could approach the volunteer program as an opportunity to develop new skills and push yourself outside your comfort zone!
Another major consideration should be how long you want to go for. To get the most out of any journalism volunteer/internship program, a commitment of at least a few weeks is ideal. It can take time to understand how things operate in newsrooms, and, if working with a monthly publication, you'll need to stay for at least one full production period.
Health & Safety
Health and safety issues vary greatly depending on your destination. Always take out good travel insurance that will cover your medical and evacuation expenses if the worst case scenario happens and you fall sick or injure yourself.
If you're traveling to a developing country or the tropics, seek medical guidance regarding any necessary vaccinations. Do so several weeks before you plan to leave home, as some vaccinations need to be administered way before traveling.
If you're volunteering with an organization that works on human rights issues or exposing corruption, ask your host organization if you need to take any extra precautions. While it's unlikely that interns or volunteers will be targets, journalists in some countries are continually under threat for speaking out. Listen to your co-workers and follow their advice if you're unsure about the safety in the place you're heading.
Knowledge of a second language -- or a willingness to learn one -- can be very useful for journalism volunteer abroad programs. While many media personnel around the world are conversant in English (and it's unlikely you'd be expected to write or report in your second language in a newsroom or at a newspaper) you'll be able to get so much more involved in your volunteer position if you know the language of the country you're in. Volunteering at an English-language newspaper in Tanzania could be just the excuse to learn Swahili that you were looking for!