International Volunteering: a rewarding experience

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Published 2019-09-23 11:00

Moving abroad is often motivated by the quest of new career prospects, attractive wages, a higher standard of living, as well as quality of life. However, not everyone chooses the same path; some prefer to donate their time and energy instead of having materialistic rewards. International volunteering is a great way not only to boost your resume but also to benefit from an extraordinary experience abroad by helping to improve the lives of different communities. Three international volunteers share their views with Expat.com.

Aaron, 27, is an ESL teacher who was born in Michigan but now lives in California. He has always been passionate about travels, discovering new countries and cultures, and especially likes new challenges. His first trip to China to teach English to 18- to 25-year-olds with physical disabilities, and in Thailand, was just the beginning of a long and exciting adventure. After that, he moved to Accra, Ghana. "I helped create living quarters out of brick and mortar, sand, and bamboo scaffolds, to help create a school for a local community in rural Ghana. I would work with the local people and local community leaders to help facilitate the development of a new school for children in a small rural village in Ghana." Today, Aaron works with ESL populations in southeast Los Angeles. He teaches at a small nonprofit Charter Public independent study school for high schoolers aged 14 to 21.

For Aaron, international volunteering is more than just the opportunity to travel and get professional experience. "It has helped me to cultivate my current goals of being more open-minded, more adventurous, to take more risks, and to generally reflect on my life to see ways in which I might help bring more joy, peace, and my own unique personality and values into the world to other people."

Louise is from New Plymouth, New Zealand. Her international volunteering adventure started in 2016, before moving to the United Kingdom, where she had found a job. Louise got the chance to experience Sri Lanka in a new light, even though the country recently emerged as a tourist destination. "I volunteered on the Special Needs Care project in Sri Lanka. The Special Needs Care Center was there to support those in Sri Lanka with both physical and mental disabilities. Within the placement, I helped with classroom-based activities, general care, playtime, and meal breaks. It was an incredibly eye-opening experience, and I felt like my time in Sri Lanka was authentic; something I would have never experienced if I had organised a trip on my own."

While Louise has travelled to more than 35 countries so far, she acknowledges that this trip to Sri Lanka has been instrumental in restoring her self-confidence, but also in meeting people with diverse backgrounds and opening her perspective to different cultures and local communities that she had not yet had the opportunity to experience.

A view shared by Jordan, also from New Zealand, who eventually joined the volunteering organisation through which his adventure began. In 2009, during his stay in the UK, Jordan and his wife decided to give a try to international volunteering. "My wife and I have always been involved with our local community back home in New Zealand, and the idea of sharing some of our skills and time in a community abroad appealed to us. Plus, we both really enjoy immersive travel. We don't tend to visit large resorts or travel on cruises; we would much prefer an immersive experience where we live, eat and learn about the local culture. The idea of volunteering in a local community ticked all those boxes!"

They did some research on the internet, chose their volunteering program and connected with the team. Jordan and his wife move to Kenya to join the Maasai program for a month. "We lived with a local Maasai family and were teachers assistants at a local Maasai school. We felt like a part of the community and did what we could to provide assistance to the school, from teaching a lesson, marking exams and fixing school desks and windows, the tasks were varied depending on the school's needs and the local workers who we could assist." Jordan is happy to have participated in various missions in 12 countries around the world. Besides, he is about to fly to Zimbabwe, Zambia, as well as Jamaica and Belize.

What are the benefits of international volunteering?

International volunteering is a rewarding experience and not only from a personal point of view. Aside from getting to meet new people, creating long-lasting friendships, discovering new cultures and learning new languages ​​in complete immersion, international volunteering represents a considerable asset on your resume. Today, global recruiters are more likely to recruit candidates with international work experience. Whether you are looking to starting or boosting your career, why not try your luck? International volunteering also introduces you to teamwork to ensure your mission's success, but also to lead a team, which is added value in the eyes of recruiters worldwide. Jordan confirms that: "Volunteering abroad also provided a fantastic way to boost our CV's, adding the work we had done abroad was always a great talking point with recruiters."

Things to consider before volunteering abroad

It's quite easy to find an international volunteering program thanks to a wide range of specialised websites. You just have to make up your mind whether you prefer to be involved in education, health, environment or the protection of endangered species, among many others. However, it's best to inquire on relating conditions before signing up for a program, and on the organisation's mission and reputation. Of course, in most cases, all this comes with a cost, so make sure you have a budget, up to US$ 3,000 depending on the country you are moving to. Costs usually include registration fees, your return tickets, health insurance, and any required medication or vaccination. Some organisations, like the United Nations, also offer free volunteering programs. However, these tend to be more selective and demanding.

Regardless of your choice, make sure to gather all the necessary information before embarking on this new adventure. All the best!