Is It Possible To Volunteer While Studying Abroad?
Totally, yes. If you can find the right opportunity to volunteer while studying abroad, then you can access a whole world of benefits and new experiences. You’ll get working experience without having to navigate the complex legal jungle of permits, regulations, and foreign tax codes that come along with a paid position. You also get to help and connect with people from circumstances very different than your own. That is a learning experience that has its own immense value.
However, some phony organizations exist that charge foreigners money for empty experiences or lure them into bad situations. That said, knowing what you’re looking for before you arrive is absolutely essential.
To help you get the most out of your study abroad experience, we at the WayUp guide have compiled everything you need to know about volunteering while studying abroad.
Volunteer Study Abroad Programs Vs. Volunteering While Studying Abroad
Some study abroad programs are designed, from the beginning, to center around a volunteer or humanitarian mission. These programs can be offered by your university and specific school departments or through open organizations like API Study Abroad or International Volunteer HQ.
For programs like these, you’ll usually travel to places with more pressing volunteer needs than large European or Asian metropolises. Some of these programs will offer college credit for the volunteer work in lieu of classes. Others will offer both volunteer work AND classes for credit.
You could be building wells and studying local government policy in rural Indian villages or work on environmental conservation in a village near the Brazilian rain forest. No matter what your major or interest is, there are a ton of opportunities to dive deeper into your academic field and actually affect the lives of others.
These types of programs are designed to make your volunteer effort the centerpiece of your experience. As such, they’re quite different from the latter type of activity: Undertaking a volunteer position or project while you’re on a traditional study abroad program.
This is a more traditional route, similar to getting a part-time job while going to school. You’ll be able to control, for the most part, how much of a time commitment it is. That makes it much more manageable if you have a heavy class load and lots of travel plans. You can usually find these by asking your study abroad campus administration. Luckily, most places will have organizations where they regularly send students, so you’ll know what kind of experience is headed your way.
Volunteering Abroad Safety: Finding A Legitimate, Trusted Program, Organization, Or Project
Unfortunately, there are plenty of for-profit organizations that will do their best to take as much money from you while giving you as little guidance, support, and opportunity as possible. This can be especially dangerous if you’re going to a place with less infrastructure for finding alternate opportunities or connecting with the outside world. That’s why it’s so important to make sure you are working with a verified, trusted program that both helps a real cause AND provides you with an enriching experience.
The easiest way to find a trustworthy program is to ask your study abroad office/study abroad counselor if your school has any partnerships with existing programs (This also helps you secure college credit more easily so you can still graduate on time.) Even if they don’t have established partnerships with programs, they might know of other students who have had successful experiences. They might even be able to set you up with someone who could talk to you about the experience.
Going through your school is the best method for safety purposes. It also ensures that you’ll have a point-of-contact at your college to help you if anything goes wrong or the program doesn’t suit you. If your school doesn’t have a study abroad office, your academic advisor or a professor might be able to direct you to an opportunity.
The next best method, if you’re looking for something your school doesn’t necessarily offer, is to use thorough online reviews, forums, and blogs. Sites like Go Overseas or Study Abroad 101 compile trusted reviews and flag recurring issues from participants to help you make your decision. For instance, take this review of API Study Abroad. Things to watch out for are programs that redirect you to local charities without any institutional support and those that lack bureaucracy. Other red flags are exploitative for-profit organizations, programs that don’t give their students/volunteers enough work, programs where there are no other students, and programs that put students in dangerous or unsupervised situations.
It’s not all bad, though. There are thousands of reviews, blogs, and trustworthy sources for finding the right program. You’ll find your fit, just be cautious and thorough!
Benefits Of Volunteering While Studying Abroad
There are so many benefits to getting volunteer experience while you’re abroad. It’ll help your resume, your future job prospects, and your personal development.
Volunteer work is work, and work experience in a foreign country is amazing for your resume. It means you’ve interacted with people from different cultures, possibly have foreign language skills, and possess the entrepreneurial spirit required to seek out work outside the borders of your homeland.
Volunteering while studying abroad shows that you are not someone who is satisfied with being a mere tourist. It will give you a plethora of stories, experiences, and situations you can bring up in future job interviews. Plus, if you ever want to return to your study abroad destination—say London—and work there after graduation, you can say you “have experience working in a British organization.”
Beyond the tangible benefits, volunteer work of any kind, anywhere, exposes you to people outside your normal sphere. This can give you perspective and a sense of purpose that can help define your character for the rest of your life. As the saying goes, to help others is to help yourself.
If you’re interested in learning specifically about teaching English abroad as a volunteer or paid teacher, check out this WayUp Guide post here.
For more study abroad FAQs, tips, and info, check out the WayUp Guide right now!