Professional Development Volunteer Programs

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Chances are that you’re in college or a recent college grad looking to break into your dream career. And, chances are that you’re also itching to see the world before settling down with that dream job.

Well, good news! There’s a way to take that gap year and still put it on your resume. By volunteering for professional development, you can participate in a number of different projects all over the world and learn valuable skills that can help make you a competitive applicant on your future endeavours.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 62 million Americans volunteered at least once between September 2012 and September 2013. That’s a lot of people.. It also speaks to the importance and professionalism of volunteering. Depending on your interests and future career goals, there are lots of different areas of the world and programs you can participate in!

Teaching and Education: If you’re looking to land a career in education, long term volunteering is going to be a huge asset to your competitiveness. You can easily lead English as a Second Language or GED classes in the United States as you work on your degree by searching for a local agency whose mission focuses on literacy. After you’ve finished your degree, all you really need to do is decide where you want to go! Anywhere in Europe and Asia are always searching for native English speakers to teach. You can also teach a wide range of other topics, such as sports education to HIV/AIDS awareness throughout many African countries. Programs like World Teach are always looking for volunteers. (Be careful, as some programs do require you to pay a program fee.) Peace Corps is another program that recruits teachers of math, science, and English!

Teaching and education projects tend to be more long term projects, ranging from few consecutive months up to two years. These types of long term projects stand out on your resume as a testament to your dedication and loyalty to a particular cause or organization.

International Relations and Politics: When it comes to the political world, there are a lot of different paths to choose from. It would be wisest to find organizations that closely aligned with your fields of interest and find volunteer opportunities from there. Any experience that you can gain with international organizations will certainly help you in your future career moves! Also, keep in mind that with this type of volunteering, you’ll most likely be using a foreign language, which is also an excellent professional asset.

Social Services and Humanitarian Development: This area is one of the most abundant. The whole meaning of volunteering is based off the notion of helping others. UN Volunteers is one possible option, often recruiting for six to 12-month positions in a variety of areas, including development assistance and peacekeeping positions. Volunteering in orphanages is also a popular and useful route if you’re looking into a career in social services and youth development. These positions tend to be very popular in African countries and India.

Conservation and Environmentalism: Who doesn’t have a big heart for Mother Nature and all her animals? If this is where your heart is and where you want your career to take you, you’ll have no issues finding volunteer experiences to help you! WWF (World Wildlife Fund) has opportunities to volunteer throughout the world on over 1,300 projects. Wildlife conservation are becoming incredibly popular throughout Africa and parts of Asia, working with animals like lions, elephants, and other endangered species.

Environmental and conservation projects are usually between a few weeks and a few months long. Often, they’re in exotic and exciting places that may include some hardship, like limited running water or electricity. When employers see this, it helps show your dedication and perseverance among challenges!

Europe: Volunteering in Europe almost definitely means you’ll be teaching or tutoring English as a foreign language; however, there are opportunities for other types of volunteering as well! They will be a little harder to find though. But while you’re there, you’ll be able to travel and see all sorts of amazing sights through France, Spain, Italy, Germany.. and more!

South America: Volunteering in South America gives you the chance to work both with teaching and education programs as well as environmental and conservation programs! You’ll certainly pick up or improve your Spanish, which will look great on your resume, as you get to enjoy working in small villages or coffee farms.

US: For Americans, volunteering here at home doesn’t quite sound as exciting as some of your other options, but it’s certainly the most versatile on your resume. You can volunteer to teach a wide range of topics, like English as a second language and general education classes. You can volunteer with a wide number of organizations working a pretty much anything that interests you, from political platforms to social services to environmentalism. It’ll be much easier to build your skills here, when you’re not battling the language and cultural barriers, so soak up as much as you can!

Africa: Volunteering in Africa is a once in a lifetime opportunity - until you end up going back for more! You’ll have opportunities to teach English, as well as other subjects like HIV/AIDS, sports, technology, and health. A hugely popular opportunity in Africa is safari and wildlife conservation projects. You can work side by side with researchers and animal protection agencies protecting lions, elephants, and monkeys. While your language skills might not be as practical in Africa (perhaps with the exception of French speaking West Africa), you’ll be sure to pick up and impress future employers with you ability to greet people in your village’s native languages!

Asia: Many Asian countries are seeking English language volunteers, particularly China, Japan, and South Korea. You’ll be able to enjoy the rich culture while learning (arguably) some of the hardest languages around. That’ll be sure to impress your future boss! India is also a popular volunteer destination for those looking to work with orphaned children, human rights, and poverty.

Australia: Volunteering down under is another location that is heavily focused on environmentalism and conservation. This megadiverse country has everything from deserts to rainforests, including hundreds upon hundreds of species of animals, plants, and reptiles. Plus, koalas. What else do you need?

  • A Broader View is an online volunteering platform that can help you find a specific program to volunteer with, including animal rescue, youth human rights, social welfare and women’s rights. There are costs and fees involved, but you can also fundraise to offset those costs.
  • Cross Cultural Solutions provides programs focusing on your choice in destination. Again, these programs come with costs and fees, and a nifty fundraising plan! They also have a few other tips up their sleeve on how to reduce the cost of your trip.
  • You can use sites like Go Fund Me and Volunteer Forever to create fundraising pages to reduce the cost of your trip. Volunteer Forever then lets you review the program that you went through, making it easier for others to choose whether or not that program is for them!
Contributed by Rachel Pelham