So, you have decided to volunteer abroad? Good on you. From a personal achievement, you will never receive more satisfaction in life than lending a helping hand to those in need. It is an experience in life that is highly challenging but also high rewarding, especially when you return home and recount with pride your volunteering stories to your family and friends.
However, volunteering in an unfamiliar country is not without its challenges. You are out of your comfort zone, away from your favourite gimmicks at home, the comfort of your own bed and your favourite meal at dinner time. All little things at the end of the day, but they all add up. Therefore, let’s run through a list of what to expect when volunteering abroad.
- You won’t change the world, so don’t expect to.
Remember these words before any volunteering assignment, you are not a superhero, you are merely a volunteer. Therefore, during your time abroad you will not change the world or the community you are involved in for that matter, so don’t attempt to. Volunteering is meant to be a positive experience, so Relax, go with the flow and give the best effort you possibly can.
- Volunteering Abroad is not cheap.
You will need to pay significant fees when volunteering your services abroad. Nothing is free and that is including giving up your time and money to do a good deed. Different organisations offer various fees and from my experiences I can highly rate International Volunteers Headquarters for a worthy experience volunteering abroad.
With the fees you will have accommodation, food and a few day tours learning about the country’s culture and magnificent attractions. On top of the regular fees, most organisations will require that you purchase your own airfares, visas and travel insurance, so be prepared before for what you need before you sign up.
- Get ready for a challenge.
I doubt you would want to experience such a rewarding adventure if it wasn’t a challenge to begin with. Good news, on a daily basis you will face different levels of challenges, whether it is keeping kids motivated while teaching a class, or constructing a wall in humid conditions. Remember to keep calm and think your way through any problems that will arise.
- You can’t choose your room mates.
When you sign up and choose the dates for your services abroad, the big unknown is who else around the world has volunteered their time during the same dates. Of course, you may choose to volunteer with your spouse, partner, family or friends. But who else is going to be joining you on the adventure will not be known until your arrival at your destination.
There will different age groups and different nationalities, so be prepared for various personalities. In my volunteering trip to Laos, I was the oldest volunteer by about ten years and I am not that old (at least in my books). It surprised me, I expected various age groups, yet here I was having the time of my life with great young people who were still in university and in Laos for same common cause as myself.
- Be prepared to Live in third world conditions.
Perhaps suggesting third world conditions is a little steep, but it still will be a far cry from the luxuries you are afforded in the modern Western Civilisation. Dorm style sleeping without air-conditioning, basic and repetitive meals and limited gimmicks, such as television, WIFI and other modern-day luxuries we take for granted.
At times, it may get frustrating to live without those things that come second nature to us, but at the end of the day it will only be for a short time. Just remember when you are experiencing withdrawals from your favourite devices that the locals live this way all the time.
- Expect the Unexpected.
Expect the unexpected, a great motto for any aspects of life. The same can be said when volunteering abroad, especially when in unfamiliar environments around the world and cultures can clash. Go with the flow and don’t let those little things disturb your experience. At the end of the day that’s all it will be, little problems, that are easily solved.
- Cherish those little rewards.
A kid opens and says that difficult word in English, a class room clicks during the singing of a nursery rhyme or you finish a hard day’s work constructing that building in putrid conditions. It is all little steps in the life of volunteering and those little rewards need to be celebrated.
Remember you are volunteering abroad for right reason, it is not easy, it is not cheap and at times homesickness will kick in. Embrace the challenges ahead of you and at the end of each day, sit back and relax, full well knowing that today, you did a good thing in life.