Going Global: Your guide to international jobs, overseas internships, resume advice, business etiquette, visa work permit requirements and more.

Going Global: Your guide to international jobs, overseas internships, resume advice, business etiquette, visa work permit requirements and more.
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Volunteering Abroad: Lending a Hand While Learning
By Elizabeth Kruempelmann
Page 1 Page 2

Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that has.

Margaret Mead

The Benefits of Volunteering Abroad

Volunteering is a frequently overlooked alternative to learning and working abroad. However, the merits of volunteering make it an inexpensive way to obtain college credits or get international work experience. Volunteering can also be essential to your future career prospects especially if you are interested in working in the nonprofit sector. Wondering how volunteering can benefit you? Let’s take a look at some of the primary benefits of volunteering.


Learn firsthand about a community, its culture, the people, and the issues they face. In many cases you will be living among the locals, quite possibly with a host family, which means you’ll be living like the locals—with or without hot water, heat, and the comforts you might be used to. You may even be eating exotic foods like fried insects and other local treats. There’s no better way to get a sense of a place than by spending some time there and living within its normal conventions.


Whether you raise money for your trip or pay your own expenses, you know your contributions are being used to further the cause—not to make a profit. The goals of most volunteer programs reflect an organization’s overall mission, which could be peace, cooperation, international understanding, justice, tolerance, or just generally making the world a better place.


As a volunteer you will use your special skills and knowledge in an unconventional setting. If you come from an engineering background, you might help design and construct a local bridge. If you have business skills, you could help local women set up a business to sell their handicrafts. If you studied medicine, you may work and train other health-care workers. Some volunteer expeditions, internships, and research programs may involve learning new skills, such as scuba diving, foreign languages, or methods of restoration. Either way, volunteering can provide you with résumé-building experience that reflects your unique strengths and new global skills.


Many volunteer programs involve living in remote and unique places that you might not ordinarily visit or have access to as a tourist. It is common for volunteers to live in the community in which they are working. This means you may stay at a resident’s house as a guest, at a camp, or in a hotel or pension. Your meals will generally be eaten with other project members, your host family, or community sponsors.


During your volunteer experience you will no doubt come into contact and exchange ideas with your group and the local people. Although group sizes vary, group interaction is an essential element of any program, and one that will aid in your personal growth and development. Be prepared to spend lots of time in close contact with a group of people who are there to work toward a common goal. The group could consist of volunteers from other countries as well as local organizers, thus creating an environment for enriching cross-cultural exchanges.


Generally there are no prerequisites for volunteering. The exceptions would be business and health-care volunteer programs, where a graduate degree and previous experience may be required. Many of the programs do not require facility in a foreign language. However, if you speak another language or have other knowledge you would like to use, such as a diving certification or photography experience, ask the organization how your skills can best be integrated. Most programs supply background information and training for each project.


Depending on the duration and the nature of the volunteer program, you may be able to arrange college credit for your participation since many volunteer programs are organized through college and university study-abroad offices. If you would rather arrange your own volunteer assignment, you may still be able to get college credit or independent study credits. Check with your advisor.


The volunteer organizations listed in this guide are nonprofit organizations. Usually their main sources of funding are through program fees and contributions. Costs are divided up to pay for administrative overhead, program development, field expenses, participant coordination, and recruitment. One big advantage of volunteer programs is that the program costs and airfare may be tax deductible for U.S. citizens if they qualify and if the organization is registered with the IRS as a tax-exempt nonprofit corporation.

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