For a real lifestyle change, you may choose to volunteer while living abroad. Whether it’s just a few days or many months, you will find that this is the most rewarding and enriching part of your trip. Here are some tips on finding the perfect organization to work with:
1. Read reviews
Every organization will publish its best face, but to get more accurate and realistic information the best resource to turn to is others that have served in the position that you’re looking into. The internet is an amazing place, and you are likely to find solid information about other peoples’ experiences by browsing through forums and review sites like Trip Advisor. Weigh your options carefully, and try to get a feel if the people reviewing it have any personal biases affecting their statements.
2. Visit before committing
If you’re able to visit the headquarters or project site of an organization before committing to a long-term contract with them, this is always preferable. Conditions may not be what is promised, or you may get an uncomfortable vibe from a place. Also, you may have an opportunity to speak with other foreigners that are working or volunteering to get their input and impressions. If you don’t like a place, don’t be afraid to back out.
If you don’t really care about a cause, you’re not likely to be an enthusiastic volunteer. With more research and careful selection, it is easy to find groups and organizations working in fields that speak to you personally, and have room for your participation. This is where the most successful partnerships are born.
2. Look into finances
Any time an organization publishes what it spends its budget on, use this information. Administrative costs, advertising, and other fees will inevitably make up some percentage of annual expenses, but they should be dwarfed by the amount of money an organization spends on carrying out its programs. Whatever field they work in should be benefiting from their donations and grants, not the staff. If they’re spending half their funds just to advertise themselves, give them a pass.
Depending on what field you’re volunteering in, it may be very difficult work. Its results should be rewarding no matter what, but if you find yourself dreading the process you may be punishing yourself more than is necessary. Whether you’re working with kids, disable people, the environment, office work, or anything else, you should still be able to enjoy where you are.
If you’re lucky enough to have time and energy for taking on a volunteer project, you should absolutely do it. Environmental organizations, schools, orphanages, and other deserving programs are always in need of physical help and more awareness, two things that you can easily provide.