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What you need to know about volunteering abroad

Updated 11 May 2016

Packing up your bags and moving abroad is an exciting prospect, but a little daunting at the same time as well. You may have a job lined up and a home to go to, but integrating yourself into the local community and learning a new culture are two things which are harder to achieve when you first step foot off of the plane and into your new life. 

One of the best ways to immerse yourself into a new country is through volunteering; not only can it help you to understand the local community a whole lot better, but you’ll also improve your job prospects and be able to give something back to the local area you now call home. 

As if moving home (and not to mention countries) wasn’t stressful enough, we’ve put together a guide on what you need to know when it comes to donating your time abroad. 

What to do

Firstly, you need to decide what type of volunteering placement you want to do; this will likely depend upon your current skill set but should also be something you’re interested in too. Remember, you’ll be donating your time for free so a genuine interest and a positive attitude are essential. 

There are so many possibilities out there when it comes to volunteering, with everything from charity shops to schools needing an extra pair of hands, there’s something to suit everyone. When it comes to more skilled placements medical volunteering is a popular option, especially if you live in or near an area which has poor healthcare. Healthcare volunteering is an experience like no other, so make sure you know what to expect from a medical placement. 

Finding a placement

Thanks to the Internet it’s now easier than ever to source opportunities abroad; a quick Google search of a company and you’re soon on your way to finding your first placement, but there’s also a few other ways you can find them too.

There are a host of volunteer directories brimming with placements ready to be filled, just search by your address and the distance you are willing to travel, you’ll then be presented with a customised list. It’s also worth noting that some organisations allow you to volunteer from the comfort of your own home. 

Safety regulations

Safety can be a concern for many when donating their time. In a new country, a world away from your previous life, it’s only normal to have concerns, but organisations who take on volunteers also have strict guidelines and rules they need to adhere to and will always ensure you’re in the safest position possible.

The same goes for organisations as they will likely want to vet you and any previous experience you may have. It is normal for volunteers to have to go through similar processes to that of applying for a paid job. Expect to submit a CV, sit an interview, provide references and possibly even sign a contractual agreement. If you’re working with children or vulnerable people then you may also have background checks.

Get stuck in

One of the best things about volunteering is the ‘all hands on deck’ attitude, so be prepared to get stuck in on your very first day. Volunteers are a vital extra help for many businesses and your services won’t be underestimated. 

There will be customs that are very different to that of your home country, as different cultural rules will apply and ultimately a different way of getting the job done. Keep an open mind and throw yourself in. 

Learn, learn, learn

It’s likely you’ve chosen to volunteer abroad in order to learn something, whether that’s more about the culture, new language, skill or perhaps all three. Whatever your reason for devoting your time, be prepared to learn, learn, learn.

Integrating yourself into the new community can be easily done through volunteering. Especially if you have little ones at a new school, or want to keep up a hobby after work or at the weekend. Either way, you’ll end up coming away with a head full of new knowledge and hopefully a new circle of friends too.

Taking the time to help out a worthy cause won’t just help that organisation, and you may find that you’ll soon see it has many benefits for you too. 

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