A volunteer isn’t necessarily made or born. Some people have an instinctual urge to help others or perhaps something else inside them that gives them the inspiration and energy to give themselves whole-heartedly. While this is the case for some, it’s not for everybody. You don’t have to be Gandhi to have the mindset or willpower to volunteer. It’s not required that you’ve worked with the homeless or in an animal shelter either. Being a volunteer abroad can start at anytime. There is no one that can tell you any different.
When I’ve volunteered abroad in Costa Rica, I met several different types and ages of people. You’ll never know whom you’ll find! A few times, I’ve met older people and even couples in their 80s and 90s living in a remote village, teaching English or working in a health clinic. You don’t have to wait that long, but the point is, there are many age groups and different people out there already.
Volunteer when you think you’re ready. Don’t listen to those who call your ideas “frivolous” and/or make comments such as “Why don’t you just volunteer in your own country or town?” You may feel that you don’t have the opportunity because you already have a family or are “situated” at home. This notion is false. It may take a little more preparation and planning before you venture out, but it can be done.
Once you have decided to go forth with volunteering, you may feel like a sword has slashed the leashes in your life, those that have bonded you to your everyday world. Once your plans are made, you’ll get that funny nervous feeling in your stomach. But, don’t fret! It’s all a part of the slow, but amazing transition from where you are now to an exotic, eye-opening experience.
Many world travelers began their experiences volunteering with organizations abroad. Volunteering will allow you to help others, but will lay a foundation of “survival” travel tools you might need later. For the first time in your life, you’re going to have to worry about which worldly possessions matter the most. And, better yet, which of these possessions are going to fit in your modest size backpack that you’ll trudge all over crazy distances!
You’ll really start to know what’s important for your daily life right from the get go. And, don’t be surprised if you return home with less than half of what you brought, not because anyone will steal your stuff, but because you’ll have seen how heavy it can become. (And, you’ll probably give half of your stuff away anyway!) Second, you’ll begin to appreciate how people in other countries live with so little. Life will come into a new view, a whole different light. Volunteering will bring you life-long relationships that you’ll cherish forever. You’ll feel the true thread of what brings humans together.
Practically speaking, volunteering abroad can lead to all of this and much more. First, it’s going to look great on your resume that you’ve traveled abroad and had some worldly experience. Second, you may have learned another language (or now feel confident in your language abilities). Third, you might learn of other opportunities abroad, such as working abroad in the country you’ve chosen. Now that you have some experience in the country (language, customs, etc), there isn’t a better stepping-stone to financing your stay further through work (discussed in other travel guides).
So, volunteering abroad will not only help open your eyes to a different world, but it will work in your benefit no matter where life takes you. Even if it’s only for a short stint, your experience in a country in-need will stay with you forever.