Volunteering Abroad: Lending a Hand While Learning
By Elizabeth Kruempelmann
Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the
world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that has.
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 FROM THE SOURCE
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.
PROMOTE A CAUSE
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.
APPLY YOUR SKILLS
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.
LIVE AND WORK OFF A BEATEN PATH
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.
PARTICIPATE IN A CROSS-CULTURAL EXCHANGE OF IDEAS
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
VOLUNTEER WITHOUT PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE
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.
EARN COLLEGE CREDIT
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
SAVE MONEY ON YOUR TAXES
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
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