The past few posts in the “summer work abroad” series have dealt with teaching ESL and work-stays as avenues to make a buck abroad in the summer months (or any month, really).
This third entry will be a bit different. In the rare case that you don’t need to make cash while spending a month or a season abroad, volunteering can be a helpful way to experience a culture first-hand in the process of doing some good. In recent years this approach to travel has gained in popularity. Volunteering’s three-for-the-price-of-one deal is attractive: The opportunity to get to know a culture, make new friendships, and have an adventure while doing a noble deed that’ll look good on the CV when the summer’s over.
And you might even get a nice tan.
Generally, volunteers don’t need special skills, except for medical projects in the Third World. Most programs are just searching for diligent, enthusiastic helpers looking to make a difference to those in need around the globe.
Opportunities can range from building homes for flood victims in humid Southeast Asia to planting crops and digging wells for clean drinking water in parched African villages. Positions helping with conservation and wildlife programs are available too.
Some first-rate organizations always looking for volunteers around the globe are Peace Corps, Doctors Without Borders, American Red Cross, and United Nations Volunteers among others. They seek volunteers to fill a critical void in the fields of environmental research, conservation, education, and community development.
More culturally-related opportunities can be in had too, especially in Europe, like digging at an archaeological site. I did this at the Shakespeare Home archaeological excavation at the writer’s former homestead in Stratford-upon-Avon, England (more about this cool experience in a future post). I made friends I otherwise wouldn’t have met and held a long-buried piece of the legendary author’s home in my hand.
There are dozens of helpful websites that can help you sort through the enormous menu of options. Many of them can parse the possibilities for people looking to volunteer in everything from medical assistance to woman’s empowerment for a week, a whole year or anywhere in between in scores of countries.
Some good resources include: http://www.goabroad.com/volunteer-abroad (great site with over 27,000 opportunities abroad updated daily), http://www.gviusa.com/ (a non-political, non-religious organization running over 100 programs in 25 countries), http://www.unitedplanet.org/volunteer-abroad (they’ll help to find a project in most categories in up to 40 countries), http://www.serveyourworld.com/articles/264/1/Free-Volunteering-Abroad (a well-run site with links to lots of excellent organizations and projects).
If this piques your interest, find a place and a position to plug into and get going. You’ll get as much out of it as you’re willing to put into it. Be ready to get your hands dirty and sweat for free, and make a difference.