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Is International Volunteering for me?

If you are thinking about signing up to volunteer abroad, then you need to ask yourself an important question; is international volunteering for me?  This will help to ensure that you, the project and your friends and family aren’t disappointed.   Volunteering abroad can be a life-changing experience, but it can also be quite overwhelming especially if you haven’t travelled off the beaten track much before.

Preparing before volunteering abroad by addressing the question, is international volunteering right for me?

Considering the essential question; is international volunteering for me?


So how can you be sure if international volunteering is for you?

Volunteering projects have many benefits:

For You – as an individual you can learn about new places, cultures, open yourself up to new ideas, learn new skills and apply your existing skills and knowledge for a greater good.  You can make new friends, develop and change your career or give your life a shake up by doing something completely different.  You will be presented with many challenges along the way and be immersed in a different culture, family dynamic and approach to social and business situations. All of these will contribute to an amazing personal experience as an international volunteer for you.

For the project – Projects benefit from the skills, ideas and knowledge that you bring and share with project staff as well as hands-on help to make their projects and activities viable and sustainable. Interest and involvement in the local issues by outsiders can help validate to the local community that the work is important and helps it maintain its momentum in the long-term.

For the project’s beneficiaries – by working on the projects you are improving the homes, habitats and lives of people and wildlife whose lives would not be the same without the project’s help.  As an international volunteer you become a part of that solution.

But, as well as the benefits, there are many challenges that can test an international volunteer’s resilience. The variety of different project types and set ups means that many people can identify a project that accounts for their strengths and weaknesses.  A Kaya placement advisor that can help you with this. But there are some universal truths that everyone considering volunteers must acknowledge and accept when deciding if volunteering abroad is right for you.

To help you consider whether volunteering abroad is right for you, Kaya Responsible Travel has put together a checklist to test your readiness and commitment to volunteering:

  • Are you volunteering for the right reasons? You can see above some great reasons, but some of the wrong reasons for volunteering are
    • ‘I am running away from something’.  Your problems will only come with you…)
    • ‘I want to ‘save the world’ – you can plan a part in making a difference, but it is the combination of everyone’s small efforts that make a real difference, not any single individual
    • ‘It’s an easy way to see the country’ – while you will have time to sightsee and travel at weekends and in the evenings.  However, volunteering is hard work and the projects need your full commitment during the working days.
  • Are you fit / healthy enough – mentally and physically – to take on a volunteering placement where you will be asked to travel, live and work in an environment which is very different from home?   You don’t have to be physically strong for many placements (many of our volunteers are retirees) but you will be challenged emotionally and you will need to look after yourself.
  • Are you willing to leave your family and friends for the period that you have in mind?  Home-sickness can be a problem for international volunteers of all ages.
  • Are you willing to try something new? You will be faced with daily unfamiliar situations, foods, practises and more.
  • Are you happy to have a CRB/police record check? We have to protect our vulnerable communities. If you have a misdemeanour on your record, check if this affects your placement before signing up.
  • Are you willing to adapt to local customs in order to fit in with a different culture? As Westerners some people think our approach is ‘ the right way’, ‘better’ or ‘more advanced’, when most often it is just different.  You will be expected to adapt to the local approach to fit in.
  • Can you cope if things don’t go to plan? In development things can and most often do not go to plan. Unplanned holidays, strikes, weather, emergencies and people not turning up are just some of the things that can affect each day – and even the best of plans have got to be adapted. Flexibility is key in volunteering, and you will need to adapt to situations.

If you think the answers to the above are yes, they we’d love to welcome you as a volunteer and find you an ideal placement.  If not, maybe the timing isn’t right and you can start a little closer to home first, by getting involved in something in your local community before venturing overseas?

It is important to realise that as a volunteer you are there to help and work within an existing project that is staffed by local people in a local environment which will be very foreign to you.  Personal attributes that are good for a successful international volunteer are:

    • • Listening skills
    • • Adaptability and flexibility
    • • Team working
    • • Willingness to learn from others
    • • Proactive nature
    • • Understanding of others

Volunteering is exhilarating, life changing and rewarding but if you are not ready and haven’t thought it through it can be difficult, not just for you.  It will also affect other volunteers, project participants who have been waiting for your help and people at home who will worry about you.  Sometimes it is just that you are not ready to volunteer, not that you shouldn’t volunteer.  By deferring for a year or volunteering in your local community you may be ready to become an international volunteer in the future.

If you are still unsure whether volunteering abroad is right for you then why not call a Kaya Placement Advisor on 0161 870 6212 or 1413 517 0266.  There is absolutely no pressure.  All the Kaya Placement Advisors have volunteered overseas and are happy to answer your questions and share their own experiences with you.  Or…. maybe the timing is perfect and you should check out and investigate the amazing international development projects that are waiting for you.