Have you always wanted to volunteer abroad? Are you committed to intercultural understanding and forging friendships with people of different backgrounds?
Read our advice on things you need to know before volunteering below:
1. Read, re-read, and read again your online briefing
Not every volunteer program works for everyone. Do you enjoy hot showers and television access?
2. Learn some of the host language, and pack a book
Volunteering in a country where you know little to nothing of the local language is a huge handicap. Being unable to communicate with even the most basic of daily commands can be extremely isolating and stressful.
3. Pack light
Save money on baggage by packing light on the way there and filling up your bag, instead of buying an additional bag for souvenirs on the way back. Pack the basics like socks and underwear, but plan to supplement your wardrobe with your new country’s store-bought clothes found at the same prices, perhaps even more inexpensive, as clothes you could buy at home. Admit it, you were likely to be a tourist shopper either way.
4. Not everyone is your friend
As a young, foreign volunteer there will be locals who will conspire to rip you off. In fact, some people make their living romancing and deceiving travellers. Keep your guard up, whether its people you meet in the street or even the casual acquaintance of friends. Although you’re not likely to encounter this problem in rural areas, large cities where there are many tourists can be quite dangerous.
5. But don’t be afraid to talk to people
That said, while every place has its conniving residents, every place is also filled with amazing locals who would love to chat about the best local brewery and their hometown’s most underrated historical site.
6. Nothing substitutes a good camera
On my trip I brought a poor quality camera that broke down within a week. Do not repeat my mistake. There will be many places and people you will want to capture in order to accurately remember this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
7. Buy good shoes
No matter where you go in the world, you will be walking a lot. Buy the most comfortable, highest quality walking or hiking shoes and break them in before you travel. Your feet can send me a thank you card.
8. Bring more money than you think you’ll need
You never know what kind of emergencies might come up. Perhaps you need medical help, or maybe you’ll miss your flight home and need to pay a massive airline fee.
9. Research organisations
Today, the number of organisations offering to connect potential volunteers, teachers, and workers to overseas and foreign placements is absolutely overwhelming. For those searching for volunteer opportunities because of a humanitarian calling partnered with a desire to travel, be sure to thoroughly research who your partner-organisation is, what their mission is, where the money goes, and what you get out of paying to volunteer.
10. Check an organisation is legitimate.
It can be really hard to tell from afar whether an organisation is reputable or not. ‘One of the best ways is to check the organisation’s credentials,’ says Karen. ‘Make sure that they’re registered in their country of origin and that they’re registered with the local government.’ Lifestart Foundation also requires police checks for volunteers, another indicator of an organisation seeking to protect the people it’s looking after.