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Volunteering Abroad


Excerpted from Work Abroad by William Nolting, with permission from Transitions Abroad

Volunteering abroad is defined not so much by earnings - since volunteer programs may or may not provide some form of reimbursement - as it is by service; working to provide for unmet needs. Unmet needs may be social - poverty, hunger, etc. - environmental, or educational. Traditionally, volunteering has been seen as helping others. Today, it is more often seen as helping persons or groups achieve their goals as they themselves define them, building local self-reliance. While volunteering means giving of oneself, it also means receiving; friendships, knowledge of oneself, insight into another culture, and the relationship between that society and our own. For some it can be a catalyst towards lifelong work for social change at home or abroad.

1. Why Volunteer?
"Before making a commitment, it is important to clarify your motives. You may be drawn to voluntary service by a desire to help impoverished people. You may be interested in learning about another culture and society. You may wish to be part of a process of positive social change. Or you may wish to gain experience which will help you find employment. Each of these motivations will direct you to distinct options for voluntary service." - Alternatives to the Peace Corps

2. Some Characteristics of Volounteer work.

  • Skills required: These run the gamut from unskilled to professional, in areas such as teaching, business, health sciences, environment and natural resources, engineering and other technical skill areas, special education, math and science, and many more.
  • Time commitment: From a few weeks to two or three years.
  • Pay or cost: A few long-term (two or more years) volunteer programs cover all expenses plus a stipend. Many provide for room and board but not for transportation or personal expenses. Some require volunteers to cover their own expenses. Short-term programs which provide training, on-site support, and sometimes academic credit usually charge a fee - but they are generally less expensive than study-only programs or simply traveling.
  • Location and type of work: You can volunteer virtually everywhere in the world. In wealthier areas, volunteering may be the only way for nonspecialists to work for social, educational, or environmental causes. In most countries with developing economies, volunteering is often the only work possible for foreigners, particularly for those seeking their first work experience in these locations.
  • Sponsoring organizations: Large international multigovernment organizations such as the United Nations, smaller non-governmental organizations (known as NGOs), and religious organizations. The latter may have either a social-activist or a proselytizing orientation, or in some cases, both.

3. Funding Your Experience.
The best way to find funds is to go directly to people or organizations for support. In exchange, the volunteer can provide reports from abroad or presentations upon return. Possible sources include service clubs, religious organizations, and relatives. Other fund-raising events include raffles, providing services for contributions, etc. Most organizations will assist volunteers with suggestions for raising funds.

Go search our job boards for volunteering positions abroad.

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