Volunteering abroad is a prospect that excites many and going by present scenario, its appeal transpires demographics and age groups. With voluntourism having become a trend somewhat currently, more and more people are opting to go for community services or socially charitable causes while on their international trips abroad. From family vacationers to gap year travelers, volunteering has become a strong weapon in their arsenal of becoming a social messiah and responsible travelers.
As easy as it sounds, volunteering for a cause is not a matter to be dealt with casually for it has the potential to send out ripples across the many groups that it is associated with. Your experience has the ability to shape the experiences of those coming in after you or the ones whose betterment you’re working for. So making sure that you have an overall positive impact and choosing the right program that suits your interests best during your time abroad is more essential than ever. It is always good to have your reasons right for volunteering abroad and not to just get in on the frenzy.
India, as exotic as it is, is still socially crippled by many issues and thus have huge demands for passionate changemakers. You’ll hear from most that India is one of the most popular destinations for volunteering and traveling simultaneously. So, to make sure you experience most of this exotic and culturally diverse country during your voluntary work stint, you should be asking yourself these few questions before setting out on a volunteering journey to India.
Why do you want to volunteer abroad?
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One of the most important questions that you need to ask yourself before embarking on a volunteering journey not only to India but to any corner of the world. This question is an important part of assessing your intentions. Your personal goals are an important part of your experience abroad as it inadvertently helps you get a sense of what you want to get out of this experience.
Ask yourself if you really are interested in making a change or if you simply want to get in on the action and craze that is volunteering. If it’s the latter one you’d be doing more harm than good rather. When you start your volunteer work and you’re struck by reality you’ll see it’s good dose of work, active participation and getting your hands dirty and much more; so different from the fun pictures of volunteering you saw online. For your own good, get selfish and think hard about these so that your experience traveling in a beautiful country won’t get marred by your wrong decisions.
What do you want out of this experience?
Are you all for having a new experience or do you want to build up on a skill that you already possess? It can be one or the both. Volunteering opportunities present chances to learn new things, gather new experiences or even build up on something that you might already have. Like teaching programs in India and community service projects would be best suited for the people who are looking to gain a global perspective and along the way brush up on some much needed soft skills that’ll go a long way ahead. On the other hand, conservation projects would be a perfect way for ecology, environment or marine biology students even to add an extra credit into their curricula.
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And no, it doesn’t have to be always about so strictly business! It’s also a chance for you to explore the many adventure activities or even little things that you have never done before and ticking them off your list. If you’ve been wondering what it’s like to paraglide and fly with the birds, why don’t you go for it when you’re in India. Or why not try haggling in the bustling markets of India. Now that’s a ‘never have I ever before done’ kinda experience that is sure to remain etched as a memorable part of your experience in India.
Yet another important question to ask yourself. What’s the driving factor behind India being your destination of choice? One of the most affordable destinations, the hub of world-renowned historical heritages, vast diversity of geography and landscapes, shoppers paradise, multiple cultures, etc. There are much more to India than what meets the eye.
Having always been a travel hotspot for wanderlusters from all around the world many people leave a trail of warm, fuzzy social goodness along their path of travels. Some have India sitting on the top of their list while some are too keen on exploring the local way of life. There are others as well who are genuinely only interested in making a positive impact in the society. So you need to single out the reason you’re choosing India for because it can be a major factor in you having the best experience, be it volunteering or traveling.
What is your budget?
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For living in the lap of luxury and let your expensive demands take a backseat for traveling abroad is all about budgeting and your sustenance depends on how well you do it. Erase those memories of you vacationing with your parents in the Hawaiian islands, you with a virgin Mai Tai in hands enjoying the Hula dancers for the next few months. Having a budget is an important part of the planning process of your volunteering travels.
Once you have an overall budget decided you need to see how much you can allocate to programs costs that are associated with the projects and choose one accordingly. Forget the exorbitantly priced options for there are organizations that provide top rated projects at affordable prices making budgeting easier for you. Most of the volunteers belong to the age group of 17-25, varying from late teens to mid 20’s, youngsters venturing out on their own or starting a new chapter in life and spending without looking back is not an option for them.
Your overall budget also dictates your travel experience in the country. But India being an extremely affordable country makes things easier for people traveling/volunteering on a budget. From living costs to food and other basic necessities, India is in a league of its own for being one of the most budget places of travel.
Who do you want to go with?
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Many people are scared to venture out on their own while many others have done the solo travel many times and is looking for something new now. No matter what’s your reason, before planning your journey to India, you need to decide whether you want to come alone, with your group of buddies, your family or a loved one! Don’t let the myths you’ve heard about India cloud your judgement.
Tagging someone along ‘Not safe for Travels’ per se can turn out to be the turndown factor of your trip no matter how good it is. After all your company defines your experience to some extent as well. So, are you more of a brooding, mysterious soul searcher or the heart of the group. Pick a program accordingly for all of your group mates and partners need to be an active participant in the volunteering process. Once you’ve decided on this, you’re a step further ahead in closing your deal.
Do you want to travel before or after?
You’d hardly find any volunteer who has left the host country without exploring it a little bit (or sometimes even a lot)! Travel is a quintessential and silent partner of any volunteering experience for it to be holistic.
During the planning stages, it is very important for you to assess whether you want to kick-start your journey in India with travel or with some good amount of social work in the community. In most cases, it’s preferred to go for the work first and fun later. Reason being, in the beginning you’re new to the Indian ways and your experience with the local community can prove to be a powerful weapon in your arsenal during your travels, be it by learning the local norms and cultures of India or be it by tapping into their contacts and getting great deals, it’s all a win-win.
Moreover, when you’re entering the country, you are prepared to experience something new and all driven and ready to unleash your do-good side to the world which further fuels you in leaving a strong impact. Your primary focus remains to make an impact and you are not distracted by fleeting thoughts of the fun you’ve had after your long travel (which is bound to happen given the majorly exciting things to do in India). All being said, do decide on your travel time and work time, decide on how long you want to intern or volunteer for and how long your trip is going to last after that. All this is crucial in planning a foolproof travel plan to India.
What do you know about India?
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Just choose a destination, book your spot, pack your things and GO! I really wish I could say all of this is such an easy process. Once you have picked your destination and booked your spot comes the integral part, Research. I do love myself a good dose of research and am too engrossed in it whenever I am traveling, to whichever country I am traveling, I do like exploring it first through the pages of Google.
Ask yourself what do you really know about India? Are you aware of the Do’s and Don’ts? There are mountains, beaches and deserts to explore. Do you know where you’re heading to and what the travels are going to cost you? Must see places, must eat food, must try things, the online world is packed with information that can make your journey to India gloriously successful. So once you’ve asked yourself these questions, type India onto any device nearby you and let Google do its magic!
'Now that you’re done asking questions to yourself, prepare to ask these questions to the organization sending you out. Trust me, being in the know about these things will only be helpful for you in making your planning more easier.'
What does your program fee cover?
If you’ve researched about volunteering and not just going with the flow here then you will know that any and every organization, small or large offering up these programs charge a program cost and applications fees maybe. In this case here, this amount will be used for making your experience in India more pleasant, impactful and comfortable, usually! But that doesn’t mean every organization does that. There are many phony ones as well who’d rather pocket a huge chunk of it rather than investing in you having a comfortable stay in the country.
So no matter which country you’re heading out to, do ask your program coordinator or any liaison from the organization to break it down how much is going where. What is covered and what is not, like insurance, accommodations, food, transport and all other expenses to you can think, make a list and ask them about each. They’ll be happy to oblige you and if they don’t or be elusive about it, that’s their first tell of being a scam.
Who will benefit from your contribution?
All geared up for participating in a community service project in rural India, way to go! But wait, who in the rural community, where? The rural community in India is quite vast and you can’t be working with the entire community, right. So again here, get asking, if you really care about the impact you want to make. Get to know who you’ll be working with in the community, what’ll you be doing with them, how doing that is going to help them???
Can I speak to former volunteers?
Our era lives online and our entire life is entangled 'on the Web’. We millennials, whenever trying something new hurriedly refer to reviews over the internet that has been left by people like us. So, it’s much like the same thing. A chance to talk to previous volunteers is a chance to know more about the organizations, how they work, and hear about their own experience, just like reviews from users who can point you towards the right things and stray you further away from the mistakes they’ve made.
Asking these questions are pivotal and their answers essential to have a fulfilling journey in India. The idea behind volunteering is a very noble one and it’s your own personal chance to impact on UN’s sustainable development goals. But on a very selfish note, if you don’t have a good experience then it is going mar the entire journey. And by good I don’t just mean doing good but also having fun, making memories, building new bonds, making local friends, getting a global mindset, doing never before things, after all you’re traveling. ‘Ask and ye shall receive’. So ask away and you’ll surely find answers that’ll bring peace to your mind and glory to your plans!