For those interested in going beyond simple responsible tourism, volunteering is an excellent avenue. Many guided tour companies incorporate this directly into their mission statement and focus on volunteering as a part of their tours. You might help build a home, volunteer at a local school, or help out at an elephant sanctuary. Do good and travel!
When choosing a volunteer placement, take into account what you are interested in, where you'd like to go, and how long you can volunteer for. Here are just some of the options for volunteering abroad.
Teaching can be an incredibly rewarding experience, as not only is it a lot of fun, but you get to see the results of your effort day by day. Teaching English is a common choice for native English speakers who want to volunteer abroad, as English teaching placements are available in just about every country.
However, don't assume that just because you speak English means you can teach it. Being a good teacher requires creativity, knowledge of teaching methods, enthusiasm, and a lot of patience. Consider doing a TEFL course before your placement, and research fun and effective lessons plans. Be sure to set long and short term goals, and put effort into planning your lessons.
Remember, English is just one of many things you can teach abroad. Consider what you're interested in- maybe you could lead an after school art club, or coach a soccer team. It doesn't have to be in an English speaking country, as many schools abroad welcome lessons that are taught through English.
Working for the conservation of forests in Myanmar, islands in the Seychelles, or beaches in Costa Rica, can be a rewarding way to spend your volunteering placement. Not only will you be helping to conserve an ecosystem, it's also a great way to immerse yourself in a new environment. This work is particularly suited to those who love the outdoors and physical activity. Be sure to choose a placement that is suited to your health and fitness levels.
From observing elephant behavior in Thailand, to researching wildlife in South Africa, to rehabilitating animals in Peru, volunteering with animals can be an incredible experience.
Before booking a placement, make sure the organization promotes sustainability and ethical treatment of animals. Also, have realistic expectations about what work you'll be doing. Your placement may involve less cuddling pandas, and more shoveling manure.
By volunteering with building projects, from houses to schools to wells, you help provide much needed resources to an area. The work can be physically demanding, but can also be rewarding, as you can see a project through from start to finish and also see how much it benefits the community.
Be wary of volunteering following a natural disaster. You may go with the best of intentions, but do your research thoroughly to see if you actually can contribute. Unless you are specially trained in disaster relief or construction, you may end up using up valuable resources, while not being of much help.
Volunteering with children doesn't have to mean teaching. Placements can involve working with children in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, or helping at an orphanage in Nepal, or taking care of children in Fiji. Working with children requires patience and enthusiasm, and can be a fun learning experience for both the children and for you.
Volunteering in Your Field
While some people may want to use their volunteering opportunity as a chance to try a different job, it's worth considering using your skill set when volunteering. For example, if you are a qualified engineer, your engineering skills will likely be far more useful than your English teaching skills. While it may seem on the surface that you are doing the same job as back home, bringing your skills abroad opens up doors for exciting new experiences and the chance to make a real difference. Or, you could look into training people abroad to do the work you do back home, especially if you work in a field that is newly emerging in another country. For example, an occupational therapist can provide useful training and advice in a country where this therapy is not yet commonplace.
When choosing a volunteer placement, there really is no limit to where you can go and what you can do. So browse through Stride's list of volunteering trips and find the one that's perfect for you!