10 LESSONS EVERYONE LEARNS VOLUNTEERING ABROAD« Back
By Katarzyna Majchrowicz-Dolińska
If you are reading this, then you have probably been inspired to travel abroad and offer your help as a volunteer. Inspiration comes from different sources. You may have seen a movie that touched you, maybe you admire the work of some celebrity, who is fighting for a good cause, or maybe your friend has returned, packed with stories and great energy, that have made you think. Whatever the reason you are here, welcome! We would like to share with you a few points, which might add another angle to the picture you have of volunteering abroad. Discover benefits of volunteering!
1. It’s not about you
Here, at home, we are the centers of our little universes. Our families care for us, we care for them, we study, work, and try to hold all these strings tight in our hands. But when you decide to volunteer abroad, you become a part of a bigger plan. You become a member of an organization with a mission. A mission to improve peoples’ lives, to make a change for the better. You become part of a bigger cause. And this work is worth as much as the work of all the single people that co-operate in the direction of accomplishing this goal. So, you are important, your work is important, and it is about your helping to make a difference, that matters.
2. You will miss some things
McDonalds? Forget about it. Netflix, nuh –oh. Don’t bet your money that everything you are used to at home will be available where you go (actually, most probably - it won’t be). Somehow, you will have to deal with this. But the good news is that most probably it will be worth it. It’s safe to risk a statement, that wherever you will be, it will be different than home. Not better, not worse, but different - in terms of language, culture, cuisine. Do you know that in India people traditionally don’t eat beef, in Saudi Arabia pork, and have you heard of Ramadan? All these differences happen for a reason. Ask questions, find out why, and we promise you, you will be amazed more than once.
3. Hope for the best…
Just trust us on this one. Have a plan B, and a plan C, just in case. Your “just in case” plans don’t have to cover the whole alphabet, just be prepared. What will you do in case you lose your passport? Get sick? Have no money left? Think about it, and try to find an answer to your questions, as that will help you avoid additional stress.
4. Be flexible
Of course, preparing and planning is necessary to a certain extent for when you are visiting a foreign country, just don’t get too carried away. Especially getting into too much detail about what you are going to do, see, and how you are going to spend your time. You just don’t have control over everything. Being open to change can help you maintain a better spirit.
5. You will learn to appreciate
In our reality, we often take many things for granted. When we want to brush our teeth in the morning, we have clean water running in our tap. When we run out of toothpaste – we go the closest store, just around the corner. When we get sick – we make an appointment to see a doctor. It’s really easy, and we don’t have think much about, because in our world – these things are available. Be aware, that it might be a different story in the village or city you are planning to visit.
6. Respect opens doors
As you will probably experience yourselves, in many ways life is different in other places of the world. And when we come as visitors, we are expected to respect and understand different traditions and culture. So, enjoy the visit, observe, and learn. You will see, that when you respect ,the people who are your hosts, you will have much more pleasure from your visit, and more doors will open for you. If you are accepted by the population around you, you might even be invited to participate in some important events, which are meant only for members of that community. That would be a true privilege.
7. Openness enriches
If you are naturally curious, open to differences, refrain from judgement and critique, people will open up to you. You may be lucky to make new friends, and learn about the local culture from first-hand accounts. This is a whole different experience than viewing the world via the internet and TV. You will learn more, people will share more, tell you more, show you more. Your openness will enrich you.
8. There is a life without wifi!
“I couldn’t access Facebook for something like 15 minutes, so I had a brief conversation with my wife and kids. They seem like nice people.”
- somebody wrote on the internet as an ironic comment to one of the recent times when Facebook went down. We appreciate both the humor as well as the truth communicated through this short story. Chances are, that if you go to some distant, rural place in Africa, India or South America, you will not have 24/7 access to the internet. Horrifying as it may sound, this is just the way it is. Initially, you may feel uncomfortable and even aching to check your Facebook or Snapchat, but, hey, look on the bright side! You will be more present in the world around you, and hopefully, you will learn that there truly is a life outside our smartphones, and it is fantastic!
9. Revise what you think and you know
You will travel to your place of destination as a volunteer with some opinions formulated in your head. Be prepared, that when you actually live the lives of the local people, in their environment & political reality, you might give certain issues a second thought. Adding the local context and learning through hands-on experience, might show you things from a different perspective.
10. You will be the informal ambassador of your country
The world is beautiful, also because it so varied. You might be surprised to learn, than in places far away from you’re your home... people actually don’t know that much about your country. Or you might hear surprising stories, like that the British drink tea with milk all the time. Not all of them might be true, or they will operate on half-truths. But that’s ok. You have the great opportunity to spread the word about your culture and reality. Maybe you didn’t realize earlier, but you will be kind of a spokesperson for your country, and what you do as well as how you act will leave an impression on your hosts.
We have come to the end of our list. We hope that you feel better prepared after discovering benefits of volunteering and more aware of what you can expect if you decide for volunteering abroad. One thing is for sure, it will be heck of an experience!
So if you are looking for the opportunity to volunteer on your own, you can search in our browser on the home page, or join one of our organised trips - FIND OUT HERE and travel in a group of people sharing similar values;)
And do not forget to write down your memories and share it with others;) You might need to get a special Traveler's Journal.