If you, too, are planning your first international volunteer trip, here are a few useful tips to make your sojourn a memorable one.Dipti Goyal
Traveling abroad as an international volunteer traveler can be a tricky ask, which is evident from the visible differences between a leisure holiday and a volunteer abroad trip.
While, both involves traveling overseas to experience something different, it is the kind of experiences and the way of getting them, that sets the two apart. Volunteering abroad requires a more prolific approach from the travelers, to make their presence count in making the difference. But that’s just one of the essentials for an international volunteer.
A lot is expected out of the volunteers, as they have useful skills which could be put to optimum benefit for the development of a project. However, while on an international volunteer program abroad (and while preparing for the trip as well), there are certain areas that the volunteers must take care of; especially, if they are traveling for the first time to volunteer abroad.
Here some my tips to be considered:
Let’s begin in a chronological order. While planning a trip abroad (not necessarily for volunteering), one must always make sure that they have all the required travel documents prepared. This includes, but may not be limited to, visa, passport, travel insurance, vaccination certificate (wherever applicable), etc.
A valid visa for the country you are traveling to volunteer in, must be there with you always; safe. Most of the volunteer program placements are offered in underdeveloped or developing countries. This gives a window for citizens of several countries to avail a visa on arrival. Check with your volunteer placement agency or research online if your country lies in the list of countries whose residents are allowed a visa on arrival.
A valid passport of your home country is your gateway pass to a foreign land (Well! Now you know why the name “pass-port”; Eureka!). This is the first thing that must go into your handbag.
Travel insurance is one document that is not given the kind of importance and weightage that it deserves; frankly. However, one must realize that a proper travel insurance is of great importance while volunteering overseas, and must be in the top of the checklist.
There a several African and Asian countries that requires you to show a specific vaccination certificate to enter. Take help from your placement agency or consult your physician for the same.
Note: It is highly advised to get a xerox copy of each of these documents and keep them safe with you. In unwanted situation of document loss, a xerox copy is what will come handy.
From the day Google came into our lives, it’s been way much easier for anyone to find, know, and understand anything (almost!). Doing a thorough research means getting to know about your travel more. Dig in deep and find every essential and useful information you can about your project, the destination, it’s lifestyle, the climate, the food, and more.
There can be more than one ways to do your in-depth research. Some of the most test and verified ones include;
Reading reviews online about the project. See what previous volunteers have to say about their volunteer experiences with the organization you have planned to volunteer abroad. GoAbroad, GoOverseas, and VolunteerForever are a few sources where you can find the most legit reviews about volunteer organizations.
Get in touch with anyone you know have volunteered abroad before. This will help you get a real time review about the entire volunteer abroad experience.
Speak to the customer support team of your placement agency. Ask them all the things you have confusions about or think is important for you to know.
Of course, then, we have our very own Santa of the online world; Google! Type in your doubt and get the answers.
As mentioned in the very first point, one of the essential documents you need to have for your first international trip as a volunteer traveler is the vaccination certificate.
Ask your placement agency for the same. Alternatively, you can check out the website of Center for Disease Control and Prevention to get the entire list of vaccinations and immunizations required to travel to a specific country.
Along with this, a routine visit to your physician or family doctor is a great idea. Be sure of getting all the precautionary advises from your doctor for your trip abroad. Get a detailed prescription from your doctor and keep it handy with you all the time.
Traveling overseas can take a toll on you, and it’s not just limited to having a jetlag. The entire climatic condition changes around you. The food, water, air, it’s all different, which your body must be immune enough to handle.
I started off this article with the mention that a volunteer trip is a tad different to a regular holiday abroad. This section will tell you all about it in detail.
When traveling abroad to volunteer under a program, there is a significant and evident purpose attached to it. Not that the same is not the case with a regular holiday trip, but then, here’s where the key difference lie.
A volunteering program needs a volunteer to be highly dedicated, enthusiastic, creative, and keen to help others. One must not get bound by the fear of approaching people. In fact, is expected to be an extrovert of a kind. A volunteer is asked to dedicate their time and effort for the project and, must be highly motivated and enthusiastic about it. They must always be ready to bring in creativity to the table while working for the program to make a significant change and contribution.
Of course, there will be other elements that completes a memorable travel experience; such as weekend excursions, local day trips, exploring markets, visiting heritage sites, and more. However, these are just the add-ons to the more important objective of a volunteer trip; viz., making contribution and helping in bringing about a difference in the society.
From what i have experienced out of all my volunteer abroad programs is that, the orientation session is too important to take lightly. It’s not just a regular intro class that you would want to run away from, or would want to fall asleep in. This is a detailed session, providing all the necessary information one needs to keep in mind before beginning the project.
An orientation session is, mostly, conducted by the local coordinator; an in-country support staff appointed by the placement agency. Being a local person, the coordinator knows the destination inside out and has all the information you need at the back of their hands.
Listen carefully to what they have to say and you can, then, put across your doubts and concerns later on. Make sure you get all your doubts cleared, once and for all, during the orientation session. This is the time when you get the answers to everything you may have missed out asking Google. So, PAY ATTENTION!
Our world has become much smarter over the years. The wave of digitalization has made things possible that we had never thought of or believed in. One such innovation is, carrying all your money in the world within a 3.370 in × 2.125 in plastic card; which we call as a credit card.
While volunteering abroad, volunteers are provided accommodation in, either, a volunteer house or with a local host family. Most of these accommodation facilities are located close to the program placements, making it a walkable distance to cover everyday. However, at times the distance between the accommodation and the placement isn’t at a walkable length.
One needs to take the local transport to commute everyday to the placement. These are mostly buses, autos, or metro rails. Being public transports, expect the vehicles to be burgeoned with public; especially, during peak hours.
In order to avoid any kind of theft or simply to keep yourself safe, it’s better and highly advised to not to carry heavy amount in cash. And, this doesn’t just applies to when traveling through local transport, but in general.
You should, also, avoid keeping cash in your bags back at the accommodation. Most of the volunteer destinations have ATMs or foreign exchange counters, from where you can withdraw little sums of money.
A good idea would be to calculate your average daily expense and withdraw only that much amount of money from the ATMs. This way, you not only keep a check on your expenses but also avoid becoming a victim of theft.
Alright! Let’s face it. This is a volunteer trip we are talking about here. A journey to a foreign land, to help a set of unfortunate bunch, and make a real difference in their lives; and the society as a whole.
Since, this will be your first trip overseas as a volunteer traveler, you need to be ready, not just physically but psychologically as well. There will be cases in front of you that might put your entire perception, about this world, into question.
There will be kids struggling from poverty and are orphans. There will be young women who are victims of social abuse. And, then, there will be children living on streets, discarded from any and every kind of leverage a kid of their age must have.
From the huge list of volunteer opportunities abroad, which includes, Childcare, Teaching, Women Empowerment, Healthcare, Community Development, Wildlife Conservation, etc., there are a few which might test, not just your physical strength, but also, your emotional endurance.
So, whether you are working for the development of a community in Ghana, or volunteering for street children in India, your aim is to bring happiness to the already sad life of these people. And, being dejected yourself won’t do any good to your efforts, and the cause overall.
As they say (I never understood, who these “they” are, who say everything. I use it, nevertheless!), “keep the best for the last”. A volunteer travel is, at the end of the day, is a travel expedition. In fact, the additional factor of volunteer work amplify the fun element during the entire sojourn.
Doesn’t matter for how long, you must enjoy every day and every moment of your volunteer trip. Make new friends with people from all over the world, find a new extended family abroad, explore new culture and traditions, try cuisines and delicacies you may not even had heard of, and be a ray of hope for many disadvantages lives.
Taking a volunteer trip abroad can be an extraordinary experience. However, everything needs to be done in the correct fashion to get the correct output. Hope these tips will help you make some wonderful memories as a first time international volunteer traveler. Enjoy!