The idea of doing volunteer work abroad has become a popular way to travel and see the world. It offers great opportunities to meet and get to know people on a more personal level, learn first-hand about the region they live and the problems they face. It is a very satisfying endeavour because it enables you to give something back to the country that hosts you so graciously. Working so closely with the locals provides an intimate enlightenment that could never be gained in a two-week trip spent rushing around a country visiting all the tourist attractions.
You have two broad options to volunteer overseas. The first is using a third party organisation that will find you a suitable placement, somewhere to live, travel information, assistance with visas and even language lessons if you desire them. The second option of making your own independent arrangements requires more research and logistical organisation but is generally significantly cheaper. In a case study that I found for a two-month volunteer placement in Ecuador, the costs were $2,800 and $950 respectively.
The choice you make will depend on a few different factors such as your financial situation, personal confidence and available time. Using a third party means you have network of people working to ensure that you are satisfied and happy with your placement. Doing it independently means that if something is not as you anticipated then it’s your responsibility to remedy the situation. The large cost differences outlined in my typical example however does create a good incentive to make your own arrangements.
Simple internet searches such as “volunteering abroad” or “volunteer work in…” will present range of organisations that specialise in placing travellers into various volunteer projects around the world. I have described the process of arranging volunteer work independently in my book Travel Unravelled. Although it is more time consuming, your direct involvement means a thorough knowledge of what will be expected and the conditions you’ll be living in. And of course the money that you save can be used for some backpacking after your assignment is complete.
If you are doing a gap year the benefits of volunteering are many and varied. Apart from being a vacation, it’s an opportunity to make new friends and professional connections, experience life in a foreign country, take a leadership role and learn a new language. Even if you are doing work related to your usual profession, the location, people and unique challenges will make it seem fresh and new. To a large extent, it will be what you make of it. Even if it involves some hard work it is a wonderful adventure and with an open mind you’ll be sure to have a great time!