I’d always wanted to study abroad. When I was in college, I realized that it wasn’t just something you could do “for fun.” Well you could, but it costs a pretty penny to study abroad. It took time out of your semester. Being an education major, I was already in school for a minimum of four and a half years, so why push that back another semester!? I didn’t want to be in college for five years! In hindsight, I now want to go back to college and stay there forever.
My junior year in college, I heard about this program, ran through the study abroad office, called Alternative Spring Break. What is it you ask? Alternative Spring Break was a 10 day venture to Jamaica, where a group of twenty five college students had the opportunity to volunteer abroad. Half of our time was spent painting the outside of a school in Montego Bay, while the other half of our time was spent in Negril, building and adding on on a cafeteria from the ground up, to a one room school house. Both were challenging. Both were eye opening. Both were an experience of a lifetime.
This had been my first time abroad. I mean, yeah yeah, I’d been to Canada, but to me, that doesn’t really count. Jamaica was eye opening. When I got back, I felt lost. I longed to go back. I was questioning my career path. Should I be doing something that involves travel? Should I be a study abroad coordinator? I came back and wanted to continue to make a difference. I came back and wanted to change the world. I felt like I was bit by a travel bug. I wanted to see the world.
You might be wondering why I can’t just volunteer at my local soup kitchen, food pantry, or animal shelter? The short answer: You can! Volunteering and giving back is so so important no matter which route you go about doing it. Why volunteer abroad? I could come up with a multitude of reasons why everyone should both travel and volunteer abroad but I’m just here to tell you about the 11 essential reasons why I believe it’s important for everyone to volunteer abroad.
11 Reasons Why Everyone Should Volunteer Abroad:
1. To make a difference
Well this is the obvious explanation. What better reason is there? If you’re volunteering your time, you clearly want to make a difference. You are becoming a part of something much bigger than yourself, along with building a better world that you are happy to live in and see thrive.
2. To see and explore the world
When you go on vacation, both domestically and internationally, you tend to sightsee. You become a tourist, snapping pictures of all the great things that new cities and countries have to offer. Popular attractions. While popular attractions and tourist areas are fabulous, you aren’t even scraping the surface of what that city or country has to offer. Living in a new country may be one of the top reasons you are considering volunteering abroad. When you do so, you are digging beneath the surface. You become a part of the culture. You get to know the locals. You are making your mark and aiding in building a stronger community.
3. To take on a new perspective and learn to value other cultures
We were all raised differently. It’s just a matter of fact. Different cultures, different parenting styles, different influences. We become comfortable with what we’re familiar with and sometimes get stuck in our ways. It takes new experiences to break us out of our comfort zones and expand our horizons. These new experiences help us become more open minded. Through open-mindedness, we’re able to value and accept others.
4. To walk a mile in someone else’s shoes
You know the saying, “you can’t really understand another person’s experience until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” When you volunteer in a community for an extended period of time, you’re immersing yourself into a different culture. A culture that is probably a bit different than what you’re used to. You learn to understand what others may be going through and are able to empathize with them.
5. To learn and experience something new
Typically when you travel, it is to experience something new. You go new places. See new landmarks. Experience things you haven’t done before. Living abroad gives you all of those. You’ll be able to learn and explore to your heart’s content. Then, when you come back home, you’ll be able to teach someone else.
6. To support a community
In addition to living in a new country, becoming a part of that country’s culture and community is another top reason many choose to volunteer abroad. When you become part of the community, you are experiencing the country through the same eyes as many of the nationals do. You see their struggles. You see their pain. You see their success. You become aware of what truly makes them tick as a society and aid in helping them become a well oiled machine.
7. To reassess your priorities
Seeing how different people live, and the experiences others may have, sometimes gives you a reality check. Volunteering gives you an opportunity to be a part of something much bigger than yourself, aiding in making the world a better place. It makes you realize how lucky you are and how small your problems may be in the grand scheme of things.
8. To expand your palate
I’m all about the food. Food is a great way for people of all kinds to come together. In a way, it’s a time to bond. Obviously, different cultures and different countries have many different sacred “dishes.” When you’re immersed in a new community, you’re able to all come together at a meal and converse. Your tastebuds will be welcoming these new, authentic, home cooked meals.
9. To give back to a cause you believe in
If you’re unsure where to start volunteering, think about your passions. Find something you are passionate about, and believe in down to your core. Whether it’s teaching, special education, animals, building, the environment or health care, let your passions lead you in your journey. By doing so, you’ll be more committed, making a bigger impact to your organization, and the feeling of accomplishment that much greater! Many would be so much worse off if people weren’t willing to sacrifice their time to help others.
10. To get inspired
Sometimes in life you feel stuck in neutral. You feel like you need more. To do more. You may feel bored with your current routine. Maybe you’re in between jobs? Maybe you just graduated from college? Maybe you’re looking for your next great adventure? Getting involved, and experiencing the bigger picture of life, can give you a kickstart to figure out your next life move.
11. To have fun
While volunteering does need to be taken seriously, it can also be much more fun than you may anticipate. You are able to make new friends, who are now sharing similar experiences. You can travel to new cities and countries on your down time. But best of all, you’re able to create new memories to cherish for a lifetime!