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VOLUNTEERING AND SERVICE ABROAD
- Volunteering abroad means offering your knowledge and services to assist others who have unmet needs in a different country. Often times this gives you the opportunity to work with local people from the host culture. Since you are donating your time, volunteer positions are not paid. Generally, volunteer positions do not require specific skills or previous experience.
- Depending on what kind of experience you are seeking, there are different types of international volunteering that volunteers may want to consider. Some examples of projects you can expect to find on our program include: developing small business enterprise, teaching English, working on women cooperatives, promoting healthcare, constructing a school or clinic, supporting human right efforts, etc.
View the Brookings Institutions Brief on International Volunteer Service for the Obama Administration
Why should you consider volunteering abroad?
- There are countless reasons why thousands s of people volunteer abroad each year. You may start with a desire to travel, learn a new language, or meet new people. By volunteering you will also have the opportunity to lend a hand to those who are working to improve life in their community. Through your daily work and interactions with members of the local communities, you will gain a better understanding of the culture, as well as the issues that affect that part of the world. You will also learn a lot about yourself, as you take on the challenge of living and working in a completely new environment.
- A volunteer abroad Service-learning program is the opportunity to participate in an organized service project while also participating in lectures or classes to complement your service. It permits you to gain direct experience working on the same content, ideas, and issues discussed in class through working at a community organization each week. With the support of your program manager and your colleagues, you build a real relationship with a community organization. That relationship is reciprocal--you help the organization meet its goals, and the organization gives you the opportunity to develop professional skills and cultural insights while applying your insights to real-world situations.
(Adapted with thanks from web material of the Career and Community Learning Center, University of Minnesota)
Why should you consider a program with service learning?
- A community service-learning placement allows you to experience social realities in your host society that are far removed from those of your home community.
- Some volunteers are able to use service-learning placements to test out a potential career choice. You'll get real-life experience working within an organization.
- Being in an organization permits you to learn about different organizational structures, cultures, and approaches to social services or social change.
- In a volunteer abroad context, a service-learning placement is a powerful window to the host culture. Volunteers who engage in service-learning often gain deeper insights than those who confine their learning to classroom settings.
- The combination of guided, structured reflection and the service-learning placement is a powerful stimulus to reflection on who you are, how you relate to the wider world, and what you want to do with your life. Volunteers often find service-learning plays a crucial role in helping them clarify their values.
- Volunteers who return from abroad programs often see it as an experience which enriched them personally and intellectually. They praise being exposed to new ways of thinking and living, which encourages growth and independence. For many people, going abroad to volunteer is the first time they have really been away from 'home,' from familiar surroundings of the USA, as well as from friends and family. This is seldom an easy experience, but it is universally praised as worthwhile, often even life-transforming. After immersing themselves in a new culture, mastering the challenges of learning in a new and different social environment, and experiencing the many highs and lows of being a 'foreigner,' volunteers typically return home with increased self-confidence and justifiable pride in what they have achieved.
Perspective on World Affairs
- Volunteering can broaden your intellectual horizons and deepen your knowledge and understanding of international, political, and economic issues. It is almost certain that you will return from your sojourn abroad with a more informed and accurate perspective on world affairs. You will also have first-hand knowledge of how another culture approaches the tasks and challenges of everyday life, a sense of how 'global' the international culture has become, and an appreciation of the importance of international cooperation.
- You will probably also gain a broader understanding of, and appreciation for, the United States or your home country, its way of life, and its role in international affairs. Through local community leaders, the other volunteers on your program, and people you meet, you'll learn how others view the United States or your home country and its world role. If you live in a country where English is not the native language, or is spoken only by some, you will learn the practical importance of learning another language and using it.
- But volunteering abroad does more than promote cultural enrichment and personal growth. It also can enhance your employment prospects, especially in the fields of business, international affairs, and government service. Employers increasingly seek individuals who have worked, studied, or volunteered abroad. They know that individuals who have successfully completed a volunteer abroad program are likely to possess international knowledge and often second-language skills. Such individuals are also likely to have other transnational competencies that graduate and professional schools and employers value just as highly: cross-cultural communication skills, analytical skills, an understanding of and familiarity with local customs and cultural contexts, flexibility, resilience, and the ability to adapt to new circumstances and deal constructively with differences.
- After considering these potential benefits, you must still ask yourself why you, yourself, want to volunteer abroad. Take some time to think about your reasons, for they will become your goals and your personal measures of success. Perhaps you want to learn a second language, or perfect one you already know. You might want to learn about another culture, diversify your studies, or prepare for graduate school. Maybe you want to travel and meet new people. Whatever your reasons are, write them down and share them with your mentors, family, friends and, most importantly, with your Volunteer Positive adviser. There are a host of valid reasons for wanting to experience foreign service. Whatever your reasons, they should be positive ones. Volunteering abroad should not be seen as an escape route from problems at home. Adjusting to life and working in a foreign environment will have its stressful moments, and the more you are able to focus on your goals, the more you're likely to benefit from the experience.