Monday, 4 May 2015

8 Do’s and Don’ts of Volunteering Abroad

This post comes from Alex Bradbeer, the creator and author of Finding The Freedom, an adventure travel blog focused on adventure and crazy off the beaten path destinations.

Perhaps you have a ‘gap’ year to fill before university? Maybe you want a break from the 9-5-work treadmill? Or you might be someone who has taken ‘early retirement’ and now wants a new direction in life.

Volunteering abroad is a great way to see new countries, learn about different cultures and grow as a person. Is it for you? Well, here are 8 ‘do’s and don’t’s to help you decide.

 

Do think about why you are doing it

 

Be clear about what you expect to get out – and give to – the experience. Is it mostly about philanthropy, training, self-development or one big adventure? It’s fine for it to be a mixture of those things but try to analyze which is the most important to you, as this will help you pick the right project.

Do think about where you want to go



Could you cope with the humidity of a city like Singapore? Copyright CC User Khánh Hmoong on Flickr

Location is always a major decision for those thinking about living abroad and volunteering abroad. Lots of factors will affect your decision – climate, language, culture, distance from home.

Interrogate yourself: Can I cope with a very humid climate? Will I survive in a quiet rural location with a patchy electricity supply and unreliable Internet? Do I feel comfortable in very conservative societies where women might be expected to cover up and behave modestly?


Do ask lots of questions 


 Teaching is a popular volunteer activity, Copyright CC User Rex Pe on Flickr

If you’re paying a fee to an agency to secure you a volunteer placement, get clear answers about what it covers. Will medical insurance, for example, be included if you get ill?

You will also need to know how many hours a day you will be expected to work and what support there will be when you are ‘in country’.


Don’t be afraid to do some serious vetting


Whether you are planning to apply directly to a charity or NGO or use an agency that specializes in placements, make sure you check them out thoroughly. Find out how long they have been in business and scour the Internet for online information and reviews by past volunteers.


Look for transparency. Reputable organizations should publish their accounts or be happy to share them with you. It’s totally acceptable for organizations to have a margin of profit for overheads and paying permanent staff, but they shouldn’t be exploiting volunteers and communities for profit.

 

Don’t make assumptions


Researching a country like Cambodia’s history is crucial for volunteers, Copyright CC User Bryn Jones on Flickr

Read as much as you can about the history and culture of the country you plan to visit. It may turn out to be very different from your initial thoughts. Not only will locals appreciate the interest you have taken when you arrive, but it will also enable you to pack the correct clothes for visits to mosques and temples – and indeed people’s homes.

Do prepare for leaving


Think about taking out medical insurance, even if you are covered by the organization you will be volunteering for. You may want to take part in sports or activities not included in their plan.

Do you need any vaccinations or Malaria tablets? Make sure you have an ample supply of any prescription drugs that you will need while you’re abroad. It’s also a good idea to take basic medications like painkillers, antibiotics and anti-histamines in case they are hard to come by.

Make photocopies of your passport and credit cards. Take one set with you and leave one at home. This is useful if the documents and cards get lost or stolen. Compile a list of emergency numbers – both of people you can call if something happens and that can be called on your behalf in the unfortunate event that you are injured.

Do try to be enthusiastic

Volunteering with a smile in Peru, Copyright CC User VISIONS Service Adventures on Flickr

When you finally arrive abroad, try to be upbeat. There’s nothing worse than a grumpy volunteer, except perhaps 2 grumpy volunteers! Accept that some of the things you might be asked to do will be dull and tedious and undertake them with a good heart. You will only get out what you put in - and no one wants to be remembered as a whiner.

Do support local businesses


Everyone loves a McDonald’s burger when they have been eating goat curry everyday for a month, but don’t routinely eat in western food outlets. Your custom is incredibly important to local restaurants, hotels and businesses. It ensures that money stays in the community and it will also help support entrepreneurship.

Embrace the fact that you will be leaving your comfort zone and be prepared to go with the flow. After all, there’s no point in volunteering abroad if you just want to duplicate your life at home
. 

This has been a sponsored post with our partner HelpGoAbroad. Note that I would not post content that I would not agree with.

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