Volunteering Abroad

Why Should I Volunteer Abroad?

Never had the time or finances to study abroad in high school or college? Want to use your next vacation to do service overseas? Whether you’re looking to volunteer for a summer, a gap year, or for a few weeks over school vacation, there are plenty of great reasons to work abroad.

Have you volunteered overseas? Tell us about it

  • Learn a foreign language
    Our world gets smaller every day – many jobs require international collaboration or travel, and even basic command of a foreign language can be a great asset in the job market. Not to mention, it makes traveling so much easier and more fun! If you’ve already taken a language in school, volunteering abroad is probably the quickest and most effective way to hone your “real-world” (as in, outside of the classroom) language skills. If you don’t speak the language, that’s fine too! Many organizations teach “survival” language skills to their volunteers either before going abroad, or on-site.
  • Build your resume
    A lot of high school and college students volunteer abroad to pad their resumes with international and service experience, which is a win-win for you and your host organization! They’ll benefit from your enthusiasm and hard work, while you get to put the experience on your resume and go forward with a new global perspective.
  • Do what you can, with what you have.
    Many developing countries where volunteer abroad programs work don’t have even the basic resources that we often take for granted in the US. Resources like access to adequate medical facilities, clean water, and usable roads are rare in many parts of the developing world. Regardless of your training or profession, you can contribute to an improved quality of life in many communities – and feel great about yourself for helping others – by offering what skills you have. People with construction, medical, language and office skills are always needed at international non-profits.
  • Gain experience and transferable skills
    Most host organizations will train you to perform a specific task in a host country – for example, teaching English, cultivating gardens, building houses, or distributing medical supplies. You’ll gain valuable, in-depth knowledge and skills that will both help in your current education or profession, or help prepare you for a new one.
  • Grow your global network
    Want to have friends all over the world? International volunteering is a great way to start. Between your fellow volunteers, the people in your community abroad, and your host organization, you’re going to come home with a whole address book of contacts for the next time you travel overseas!

Tips for Volunteering Abroad

Traveling abroad, especially if you’re alone or a first-time traveler, can be a scary prospect, so it’s best to learn as much as possible from the experiences of others before you go. Here are a few tips for organizing your volunteer trip overseas and making it work for you.

  • Before deciding where you want to go or what you want to do, ask yourself the tough questions: Why do you want to go, and what can you contribute? Having clearly defined goals for your time abroad will help you pick the right organization or program for you, and it will also keep you focused and accountable to the community you’re serving.
  • Budget your trip way ahead of time. Host organizations often make you pay for transportation to your destination, and sometimes even things like food and accommodations. While you’re budgeting, make sure to take into account costs for travel insurance and incidentals, as well as souvenirs and sight-seeing.
  • Do your research and make sure that the organization you want to work with is reliable. Things to take into consideration: how long the organization has been running volunteer trips, its reputation (look for reviews or testimonials by past volunteers on GreatNonprofits.org), the trip schedule, accommodations, skills or experiences required to work in your country/community of choice and their volunteer support system.
  • Get written confirmation of the following: required fees and refund policy, departure and return schedule, accommodations and meal arrangements, and in-country logistics such as airport transfers and language training or translators.
  • During your time abroad, be patient and be humble! Chances are, you’re going to learn far more from this experience than you’re going to teach – even if you’re volunteering as a teacher. It often takes longer than you’d expect to adapt to the language, customs and hierarchies of your host community.
  • If you can, add some free time onto your trip before or after the service portion and plan how to use it to take full advantage of your time abroad.

Here are some great opportunities for students to volunteer abroad.

  • ISV’s international service programs for students combine two weeks of volunteering with two weeks of adventure travel in one of seven countries!
  • Cross-Cultural Solutions offers volunteer abroad, intern abroad, and Alternative Spring Break programs at sites in 12 countries.
  • ProjectsAbroad sends over 8,000 people (many are students) abroad each year on internships and service projects.
  • United Planet lets you browse opportunities by the kind of work you’re interested in doing (healthcare, orphanage work, environmental, etc).
  • Volunteer Abroad has programs for high school and college students, adults and groups.
  • VIP works with students, volunteers, individuals and groups to do international community service in health, social services, environment and education.
  • Real Gap Experience has sent over 50,000 people to volunteer or teach abroad, get overseas work and/or internship experience.
  • BaseCamp’s unique approach ensures that volunteers and interns are fully prepared for and supported during their experience abroad, working with host organizations to make short-term volunteering as productive as possible for everyone involved.
  • VFP places students in affordable volunteer projects in 100 countries, including the USA.