Many travelers, after a few international trips, find that they long for a richer, deeper, and more satisfying cultural experience when they travel. Overseas volunteer opportunities have been around for over 40 years but since 2000, this kind of travel has exploded with so many choices that it is easy to become overwhelmed. You can spend hours with thousands of links on Google, or you can save time with a step-by-step process to narrow the options to a manageable number.
There is no one project that fits every volunteer. When you thoughtfully answer these first three questions however, you will be on your way to find the perfect fit project for your travel and volunteer goals.
Q1: Why do you want to volunteer?
Many people take advantage of the many overseas volunteer opportunities without giving it much thought. They see a need, feel they can fill it, and dive in. To maximize your time as an international volunteer however, ask yourself if you want to:
Use an existing skill?
Learn something new?
When using an existing skill, you arrive with experience and can jump in more quickly at the new location. At times, you need credentials, certification, education, or a degree to be a volunteer. For example, Doctors Without Borders or projects where a second language is required.
If you are interested in learning something new, arrive with an open mind, enthusiasm, and a willingness to learn. The international agencies know you may not have special skills. They are prepared to train you and show you how to accomplish the work at their location.
What do you want to learn?
A new language?
Experience a new culture?
Develop a new job skill?
Explore a possible career or field of study?
Find out more about yourself?
Once you choose between using an existing skill or trying something new, you are ready to move on to what.
Q2: What do you want to do as a volunteer?
There are so many overseas volunteer opportunities and they all look interesting. This can cause people to lose heart about finding the right project. Focus on one of the following areas to determine if you prefer to work with:
People (infants to seniors) – education, human services, health, business, social justice.
Animals – farm animals, pets or wildlife – science or rehabilitation.
Nature/Conservation – plants, research, or trail work.
Building – roads, bridges, schools, wells.
Inanimate Objects – art, anthropology, archaeology, records, data, business systems.
Once you have found an interesting project, read the project description to see if it is in a location you want to visit and make sure the start dates fit your calendar. If there are several projects that interest you, this can take some time. But if you pick projects that really fit your interest, it can be fun exploring the possibilities.
You goal is to find a project that fits both you and the foreign agency, as you want your volunteer trip to be a win/win experience for everyone. Before you commit, read the information carefully to determine what the agency expects of a volunteer and that you can fulfill the job duties.
Next ask yourself…
Q3: How will you measure success?
What will give you the greatest personal satisfaction about your volunteer trip? Is it that you will return feeling like you:
Made a difference? If so, what was that difference?
Saw evidence of progress during the project?
Have a better understanding about the culture or country?
Acted as a citizen diplomat for your country?
As you depart, you may think you have a clear idea of what you think your success will look like. But don’t be surprised if the answer has changed by the end of your trip. Once you have spent time abroad working on a volunteer project that fits your heart, you will most likely find that the rewards you take away are much greater than you could ever have imagined.
You can do it! You can find a great project for you! So, get out there and hold the world in your heart and VOLUNTEER!