Becoming an international volunteer can be a life-altering experience. Young adults with an independent streak and the ability to completely immerse themselves in another culture will benefit immeasurably from aiding others around the globe. However, college students thinking about giving their time to help a non-profit organization overseas must consider the commitment required of them and do a bit of soul searching before signing up for an extended stay in another land.
Time and Financial Commitments
A U.S. non-profit organization that opens up an international office to provide support for a town, a village, or a community must first dedicate staff and volunteers to understanding the area’s social and political realities. They must learn the language and understand the culture before any help can be rendered. Volunteers must be willing to make a time commitment that will allow them to be effective in their role. That may mean spending six months or longer prior to the assignment learning the basics of the language and how members of the community live.
Depending upon the organization through which you are volunteering, you may or may not have living expenses covered. Be prepared that any per diem allowance will be minimal, just enough to cover your basic needs. In fact, you may be called upon to donate both your time and money to the cause. The international volunteer makes a financial commitment, as well, by stepping away from the comfortable level of freedom he or she may be accustomed to at home.
Assess your willingness to make these commitments when you are looking for an overseas cause to support. If you cannot make a long-term commitment, then some international volunteer programs will not be right for you.
Take the Lead
The international volunteer needs to know how to make something happen, to solve problems that arise with the resources available instead of waiting for instruction. When you factor in the experience of feeling out of place and perhaps a bit disoriented in the beginning of your service, it may be difficult to summon the personal strength to be a self-starter and a resourceful team member.
Nonetheless, it is important to focus your attention on the community you are serving and the tasks you are assigned. Shifting your concentration in such a way will help you be a valuable international volunteer.
Exercise Your Independence
Another trait shared by those who really benefit from being an international volunteer is the desire to chart your own course and be independent. Of course there are times when volunteers miss their friends and family back home. But if you already make your own decisions about where and how to live in your home country, chances are you will be able to exercise that independent spirit and self-reliance when helping others overseas.
Be Open to New Cultures
The international volunteer has an expanded world view that embraces cultures outside of his or her own. It is necessary to be open to and comfortable with mores and customs that deviate from the known in order to truly make a meaningful difference within the culture you are volunteering. If you are open to the experience, then you will become even more culturally aware and open-minded by the time you return home.
Seek to Learn
The successful international volunteer strives to learn, knowing that becoming fluent in the language and learning everything possible about the practices and customs of the people served will promote his or her personal development. Volunteering in your chosen career field will do more to boost your understanding than any textbook.
Your personal development will extend beyond the methods and tools of your career. Your self-reliance and leadership ability will also grow as a consequence of the experience as an international volunteer.
If you can make the financial and time commitments and are willing to take the lead in a new situation, consider becoming an international volunteer. The benefits gained from living in another land and by different traditions are priceless. The international volunteer gains from both a deeper self-knowledge and an expanding world view.
For more information about volunteering abroad, look for these five books on Amazon:
An Insider’s Guide to the Peace Corp: What to Know Before You Go by Dillon Banerjee. ISBN 014200071X
Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolph Potts. ASIN B000FBFMKM
How to Live Your Dream of Volunteering Overseas by Joseph Collins, Stefano DeZerega and Zahara Heckscher. ISBN 0 7865 3459 1
Poverty and Promise: One Volunteer’s Experience of Kenya by Cindi Brown. ASIN B0019QZEKA
Environmental Volunteer’s Guide to More Than 300 International Adventures to Conserve, Preserve, and Rehabilitate Wildlife and Habitats by Pamela K. Brodowksy. ASIN B0030CVR8Y
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