The Pros & Cons of Volunteering Abroad
Gone are the days when Greenpeace was your only option of a decent volunteer experience. Today, it’s easier than ever to find well run, organised programs. However, while it is an admirable task, it’s worth discussing the potential pitfalls and the positives before you dive in. After all, the better you understand the risks and rewards, the better prepared you’ll be! Here are the pros and cons of volunteering abroad.
Pro: It's Super Rewarding
Doing a good deed is always nice. Returning a lost phone, giving the homeless some change, helping an old lady across the road. The daily stresses of work, family and life in general, can leave you feeling overwhelmed and it can be hard to feel like you’re actually making any real impact in this world. But how good would it feel to know your impact is changing someone’s life? Whether it’s through community improvement, medical care or looking after sick animals - volunteers help in such a way that could easily be the biggest and greatest deed they have ever done.
Con: It’s not free (and shouldn’t be)
Yes, spending your summer volunteering on the Costa Rican coastline saving sea turtles sounds amazing, but there’s a catch. Volunteer opportunities come with a price tag, and if they don’t you should be very wary. The cost will vary, obviously depending on the organisation and the program you choose, but most volunteer organisations offer a lot for the prices that they charge. The majority of costs go to the project operations so it can run safely, efficiently and towards its overall mission, and the rest goes towards things marketing (so you could hear about the project to begin with), administrative behind-the-scenes stuff, in-country support, pre-departure information and training, airport transportation, travel and medical insurance, ground transportation, food and accommodation, excursions and potentially also donations to the project’s fund. There’s that saying - ‘you get what you pay for’, and with volunteering abroad it couldn’t be truer.
Pro: Gain new skills & boost your career
The wild world of volunteering abroad is ever changing and every day is a chance to stretch your experience. Whether you want to dive deeper into an area of interest or test some new skills, volunteering abroad is a great excuse to try new things and a huge boost on the resume. Volunteers often find that the skills they gain help them to become more confident and adaptable. Potential future employers see volunteering experience as something that differentiates you from the rest of the crowd. It shows character, that you can adapt to dynamic environments, and that you’re not scared to step out of your comfort zone - plus the added benefits of teamwork, foreign language skills and simple plain old hard work don’t hurt either.
Bonus: When you volunteer with Global, you’ll get a Project Completion Certificate to pop in your resume/CV portfolio.
Con: Volunteer work means ‘work’
Volunteer work, by definition, is unpaid and there can be a lot of hard work involved. Being a volunteer doesn’t involve lying on the beach with a beer in hand (well… maybe sometimes) and you will have to put some work in. Volunteering is much more rewarding than sitting on a beach drinking beer anyway. Remember that you are there to work in return for the training, housing, feeding and experience they are providing for you so you should treat it with the seriousness you would any paid job. Make sure you are heading where your interests lay and you probably won’t even think of it as work. Plus, the emotional rewards you will be reaping will be tenfold and much more rewarding than any money.
Pro: Form a new world view
A grasshopper is considered a pest in the US, a pet in China, and an appetizer in Thailand. The real beauty of volunteering overseas is that it will give you a new insight into a new culture when you live day to day as a local. We have (most of us) grown up surrounded by the same cultural norms. We believe certain things to be true, to be right and to be normal. But no two cultures are identical! From language to motivations, aspirations, food, customs and even beliefs about how this big old world is supposed to work. Volunteering abroad gives you a window into different worlds and an open mind where you can start to understand the differences between people.
A vacay is all well and good, but living and working with the locals will teach you how to live amongst a new culture - from how to cook local delicacies to new ways of dancing, dressing or spending the evenings.
Con: You need to stick to your commitment
Unlike any old regular holiday, a volunteer trip requires you to commit. If you choose a 3 week project and feel like backing out after a week, you’re going to disrupt the whole schedule that has been set. Once you’re on project, you’re being counted on to carry out important functions so the mission can proceed as planned. If you bail, not only does it add more work to those who are there, but it also slows down the often critical and time-sensitive purpose of the project. Projects can run from anywhere between several days to several months so picking something that will allow you to really get involved in your timeframe is ideal. You want your time to be used effectively. It’s also important to consider how many hours per day, per week or per month you have to dedicate to your volunteer experience.
Pro: Meet Like Minded People
Tired of sitting around hostel bars listening to armchair activists? Rather meet people who put their money where their mouth is? Many projects have volunteer houses or lounges where you can meet other people volunteering in the area and get another perspective. Chances are that you’ll stay in touch, bonded by a shared experience and a similar moral compass.
Pro & Con: Cultural Immersion
This is a bit of both. Volunteers can get a shock when they find themselves in cultures that are uncomfortable. However, while it can be tough at times, volunteering gives you insider knowledge that no tourist can achieve on a holiday. You will have access to real people, see how they live, what they eat and what makes them unique. For better or worse, being a volunteer can provide a much more authentic look at a country than the normal vacation. You are replacing rest and relaxation with the chance to spend time helping locals. Instead of hitting the usual tourist spots, you’ll be spending more time off the beaten track.
Volunteering isn’t for everyone, you have to be dedicated & committed to a cause, but we can tell you that whatever cause you decide to support, it’ll be well worth it. It adds to your self-development, your interests, your skill sets, your resume/CV and experience. You can kiss your holidays goodbye because once you’ve volunteered abroad you’ll be consuming all of your precious annual leave hours doing it over and over again!