The first time I seriously considered wanting to volunteer abroad, I could hardly contain my excitement. There were so many options available to me – a project for every issue, and on every continent. I went back and forth for months before settling on a conservation project in Thailand. Thailand was never number one on my list of countries to visit, but I was drawn to the elephants, the mix of community and conservation work, and the unique homestay accommodations.
So, what should you consider when trying to decide what to do and where to go?
Do you want to volunteer on a community or environmental project?
GVI’s projects are often divided into these two basic groups, so it’s important to consider where your interests are. If you’d like to work with children or teaching English, consider childcare projects in India or Fiji. There are also issue-area specific projects to think about, such as community health education and outreach in South Africa. Or perhaps environmental projects are more your thing – do you want to volunteer on wildlife conservation projects or marine conservation projects? Or maybe you like getting your hands dirty on and want to spend time on construction projects. There are so many options out there; you’re bound to find the perfect one for you!
Is there a country or region that has been calling your name?
With so many options, it’s good to start with the country or region that has been pulling you in. The culture, lifestyle, language, and proximity to other countries all play a role in your overall experience. Whether or not the project location is in a rural or urban setting may also be a factor. Think about what you’re looking to get out of the cultural and travel aspect of your volunteer trip and do your research online. Then go talk to someone who has traveled and volunteered in some of the places on your list to help you narrow it down.
That said, don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Like I mentioned, Thailand was never top on my list, but I was drawn to the work itself that I couldn’t pass it up. I never once regretted it!
Further reading: 6 Reasons to Volunteer in Chiang Mai
Once you’ve narrowed down what type of volunteer project you want to go on, and where you want to do it, there are a few more things to consider before selecting your volunteer experience.
How much time do you have to volunteer abroad?
If you live in the US and only have a week to volunteer, maybe consider something closer geographically to maximize the time you have in the country rather than on an airplane. If you have months or an unlimited period, get adventurous with where you go, or better yet, volunteer abroad in multiple countries!
Further reading: Why I Regret Not Taking a Gap Year
What time of accommodation are you looking for?
I wanted the homestay experience more so than the communal living experience. It was something I had never done before, and I wanted to try something new. But it isn’t for everybody. You need to be honest with yourself – can you live with a host family by yourself? Can you live in an accommodation with no electricity? Can you use a drop toilet or take a bucket shower? A lot of the bases in the more isolated locations have just the bare essentials, like GVI’s base in Jalova, Costa Rica.
What type of food will you be eating?
With accommodation also comes food – what type of food do you like or can you not tolerate? Do you have food allergies that or dietary restrictions that might limit your options? Will you need to bring snacks to supplement your meals?
Do you have health restrictions?
Some of the biggest health concerns revolve around project proximity to a hospital, and whether medicine can be refrigerated. Be sure to ask those questions, as some project sites are remote, and others have no refrigeration for medicines that need it.
What is your budget?
This is super important. Look at the exchange rates between your country and countries on your list. Saving up money is important for any project, but it’s always nice to get the most out of your money. Going somewhere where you can stretch your money out will allow you to enjoy more side excursions, local food, and travel beyond your project site. The more you get to participate in the local culture while you’re volunteering abroad, the more memorable your experience will be.
Is the project relevant to my future job goals?
Now, not everything you do has to be for your resume. Maybe you want to volunteer just to do something different and give your time. But should you be looking to volunteer or intern abroad, you should consider the relevance of the project to your professional interests. If you’re interested in becoming a TEFL teacher, then volunteer on an English project in Thailand. Whatever it is, be sure that it fits your interests and skill sets so that you get the most out of your experience.
Further reading: The Value of International Work Experience
If none of that works, and you’re still stuck between a few projects, remember Howard Thurman:
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
What project have you come across that got you excited? The one that makes you smile, want to tell your friends and family about, and makes you think, ‘this is it.’ That’s the one.
Feel ready to start making a difference? Find out more about GVI’s international, award-winning volunteering programs and internships, and choose from community development, animal care, teaching, women’s empowerment, and conservation projects worldwide.