You may have heard now about short-term international volunteer opportunities, where you’ll have the chance to soak in a new culture while giving back to your host community. You also might have looked into different programs – figured out where you’d like to go, what you’d like to do, how much it costs, and more. It sounds like a fun trip, so what are the pros and cons?
– You’ll help an underserved community! There are so many options out there, whether it’s education, health care, orphanage work, wildlife sanctuary assistance, business startup, and more.
– Many organizations charge very little for your assistance. My website, for example, lists hundreds of groups who ask their volunteers to pay only $15 per day for their food and accommodations.
– You’ll experience a new culture, and in many cases, live with a local family. Depending on the type of trip, you’ll be immersed in the host community’s way of life – from working alongside them to living with them.
– Many new opportunities are short-term, allowing those who only have limited vacation time to help others and explore a new area.
– You’ll meet new people – both in the local community, and from around the world.
– Is the group helping or hurting the community? Unfortunately, some organizations may have the best intentions, but aren’t going about their “help” in ways that are sustainable, or that involve the host community in the best capacity. Try to find one that actively involves locals, giving them the tools necessary to help themselves.
– Costs can pile up. The first organizations you’ll find in Google searches charge upwards of $5,000 per week, not including your airfare! Look around until you find something affordable, and don’t become discouraged. Find people who have volunteered before, and see what they recommend – many can be found through Facebook and Twitter.
– Immersing yourself in a new culture will take you out of your comfort zone. Perhaps you’ll be in a community that views women’s rights differently than your own; are you comfortable adapting to and being respectful toward it?
– Short-term isn’t always the best. My general rule of thumb is that if you’re working with animals, children, or victims of violence, disaster, or neglect, it may be best to go for at least one month. A revolving door of one-week-workers isn’t exactly the best plan for vulnerable people or wildlife.
– It’s work! And it can be tough, uncomfortable, frustrating, and you probably won’t see the effects of it by the time you leave. But if you understand that before you go, and prepare yourself for it, you’ll have a great time.
Are you up for it?
As you can see, there are pros and cons for embarking on international volunteer projects. They can be frustrating but rewarding, and as long as you prepare yourself and know what you’re getting into, I can almost guarantee you’ll love it. And by “almost” I mean, I’ve only met one person who didn’t.
I’ll sign off here with one last bit of advice: Figure out whether you want your trip to emphasize “volunteer” or “vacation”, and then find a group that’s on the same wavelength. Once you do, you won’t be disappointed – and probably want to go again and again!
A huge thanks to our friend Sarah Van Auken for a great guest post! Sarah runs a website called www.Volunteer Global.com. Her site highlights the ins and outs of volunteering! Volunteering is the next best thing to fighting!