As a university student it’s easy to fall into routines. Sometimes, it can feel like your life is a cycle of studying, exams, and lectures. So, naturally, when the prospect of volunteering abroad presents itself as an opportunity, jumping right into any oversea volunteer position can become a sort of knee-jerk reaction.
Volunteering abroad has become an immensely popular choice for students as a way to gain valuable experience both professionally and personally- all while doing good. Though it sounds like the perfect combination, it's important to understand that not all volunteer opportunities are the same, or have the same impacts within their communities. Before taking that plunge, we recommend students consider these 5 questions to ask before volunteering abroad.
1) Why am I doing this?
Before volunteering abroad, the first question you need to ask yourself is: why? What purpose is driving your motivations? Is it entirely based on your desire to help others, or are there more personally fulfilling motivations as well? If no one knew what you were doing, would you still do it? Would you still want to go if you couldn't take pictures, or post on social media about it? Being honest with yourself about your intentions and motivations is vital prior to volunteering abroad.
2) What are my expectations?
The concept of volunteering abroad often comes with romantic notions of doing heroic work that is instantly paid off through the immense gratitude of the ones you are helping. Before making the decision to volunteer abroad, it is important to completely erase that notion out of your head. Managing expectations is one of the most useful things you can do before going abroad. Expecting everything from hard work to no work at all, as well as many frustrating moments and the possibility that no gratitude will be bestowed upon you at all will help you have a more grounded view of what will be ahead of you.
3) What do I know of where I want to go?
Before even booking that flight ticket, do some research on your choice of destination. Learn about this country as much as you can before you land. What language do they speak? What cultural differences will you most likely encounter? What is the current political climate like? What are the most pressing issues facing this country right now? If you are serious about doing good work, you will take the extra effort to learn more about the country.
4) What organization will I volunteer with?
After learning about the country you want to work in, your next step should be to research what organization you want to work with overseas. You will need to make sure how reputable this organization is, what kind of work they do, and if the work they do is actually impactful work or just tailored to the ‘voluntourism’ industry. If you want to volunteer abroad, you need to educate yourself on how many organizations have taken advantage of oversea volunteering to rake in volunteer money from western countries.
5) What impact will I have?
What sort of work do you plan on doing? Is it the type of work that will only take away jobs from locals? Think of volunteering abroad exactly as you would a job at home- you would not do something you weren’t particularly skilled or trained in at home, so why should you do it abroad? Instead of going somewhere to build schools if you aren’t trained to do so, try thinking of offering skills you do have which would have a more meaningful and effective impact. Oftentimes, students believe volunteer positions mainly consist of manual labour, such as painting schools, or charitable work, such as feeding the homeless- but volunteering can be much more. International internships are a great option to be more than just a volunteer.
Now that you’ve asked yourself these five questions, you’re well equipped to take on a volunteer position that will cultivate your skills while not feeding into the harmful voluntourism industry!
Want to learn about study and intern opportunities abroad? Check out our program in Uganda below!