6 Tips for choosing a volunteer abroad assignment

Penny gives tips for volunteers on choosing a volunteer placement and which details one should watch out for. Her tips concern the costs, the location, the facilities as well as the time commitment for the job on the one hand but also your personal skills.

So you’ve decided you want to volunteer abroad: Fantastic!

Perhaps, you’ve started doing some research into organizations, costs, locations, and assignments. There’s a lot of information to wade through. Sometimes this can get overwhelming, and even a little confusing. What are the key things you should be looking for in an assignment, and an organization? What are the main things you should be considering when choosing a location? I’ve been lucky enough to have some experience with volunteer projects over the years, so here are my tips for selecting a volunteer abroad assignment.

Check the costs

Often, volunteering can be a pretty cost-effective way to spend time abroad. You’ll usually get accommodation, food, and services at local prices. But volunteer projects can vary significantly concerning their fees considering the different organizations, locations, and assignments involved. Make sure you’ve prepared a budget for your trip so you can afford to take part in volunteering. Take a look at what’s included in the total costs listed, and consider whether there are any additional expenses such as flights, airport transfers, accommodation, food or materials you might have to bring (like books, mosquito nets, torches).

The location

Volunteer projects are often located in fairly isolated areas across the world. Have a think about some other times you might have traveled through, or lived in remote areas – how did you cope? Personally,

I really enjoy remote locations, as you’re totally immersed in the language, and culture, and can truly experience living like a local.

When volunteering in this way, you’ll enjoy local food, are likely to pick up the language more quickly, and learn to really appreciate the comforts of home!

The facilities

These days, a possible ‘deal breaker’ for many people when traveling and volunteering abroad, is whether there’s an internet connection. If there is internet available on your volunteer assignment, keep in mind that it might be limited to certain times of the day, and may also be unreliable. I think this can actually be a good thing, as it’s great to ‘switch off’ from the world sometimes, and it will only further your cultural immersion.

Another ‘facilities factor’ to consider may be the sleeping conditions: are they shared, for example. If they are shared, I think it’s a great way to get to know other the volunteers, and staff on your assignment. You’ll most likely be cooking, and sharing meals together as well. It’s a great way to make new, and often long-lasting friends. On weekends when you have time off, you may even travel together to explore the surrounding areas.

The time commitment

Some assignments require that you commit to a minimum amount of volunteering time, as this ensures a substantial contribution, and continuity in the project.

Before accepting an assignment, make sure you can commit fully to the requirements.

This includes not only the time commitment, but makes sure you will be able to live and work under conditions you’re probably not used to (for example remote location, living quarters, and so on – as I mentioned above). Remember, pulling out of an assignment early because you didn’t do enough research just isn’t cool.

Do you have the right skills?

Now’s not the time to use some ‘creative license’ with your skills, knowledge, and experience – it’s a volunteer role, not the next promotion you’re gunning for. Remember this is most likely an organization that’s strapped for resources, and the people in it rely on volunteers to get their projects completed. Be truthful about what you have to bring to the table, and you’ll find an assignment that’s right for you.

Also, remember that you might need to know the local language. By learning the language before you go, you’ll find communication and make friends (both local and other travelers) much easier. Learning the local language in-country is also a great way to speed up your learning – when you’re fully immersed, you learn much faster.

What will being a volunteer abroad bring you?

Volunteering is of course, for many, about giving back, but you’re allowed think about the vast benefits it will bring you too. You’ll probably gain extra skills, and enhance ones you already have.

You’ll most likely be pushed out of your comfort zone (more than once!), and be challenged in so many amazing ways.

Ultimately, you’ll learn so much about yourself and other people, and just what you’re capable of achieving in strange circumstances.

Penny is an avid Australian traveler, who is 1.5 years into a 1-year trip abroad. She’s currently living in Panama and has so far visited 20 countries across four continents. Penny is the creator and author of Travelling Penster, which features humorous stories, useful tips, and stunning pics from her adventures across the globe. Check out her website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter to find out more.

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