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My volunteering abroad guide

By JamesRLA 08 Feb 2021

Want to see the world, experience authentic culture and make a difference? Then you should consider volunteering abroad.

With volunteering options in almost every country and the chance to do everything from conservation work to teaching languages, there is something for everyone. 

You will not just be exploring cultures and beautiful places, you will make lifelong friends you will develop skills that employers want.

2020 was been a crazy year and although the immediate future is uncertain, it is good idea to start planning where you would like to travel to, and who you would like to volunteer with now. But, beware of voluntourism (I'll cover this later).

a group of people playing on the beach

My story

For 3 months I lived with a family located in a small rural village in the Cambodian jungle. I experienced their traditional way of life, local food and was immersed in the culture.

A mix of UK and Khmer volunteers stayed in the village. We worked together to teach skills to the local youth, help them get jobs, start businesses and raise awareness on issues in the local area.

It was truly humbling and I left feeling empowered. I made lifelong friends and some incredible memories. I have been inspired to do more and encourage you to volunteer too!

a bedroom
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Why should you do it?

Giving back and helping people is a wonderful feeling. You'll take part in activities that may take you out of your comfort zone and will develop you as a person. You'll have the opportunity to gain new skills which could be anything from learning a new language or being able to teamwork cross-culturally.

Experiencing a completely different culture lets you look at the world through new eyes. For many people, they gain an appreciation for what is important in their life. This can be really helpful if you're not sure what to do after you finish your degree.

It's also an opportunity to safely visit places off the beaten track and make life long friends. It's not all work, you'll have a lot of fun, eat a lot of good food and see the most amazing sunsets. 

children at a school

Things to know?

Try volunteering at home first - You'll quickly find out if volunteering is for you and it's always good to help charities at home not just abroad.

Facilities and food - Facilities may be limited and you will probably not have all the comforts you are used to. The same goes for food, don't expect to find Nando's.

Culture shock - This can be very hard for some people especially if you are not used to travelling. It really helps to bring things that remind you of home and remember your loved ones are only a phone call away.

Language barrier - This is likely the first challenge you will face and even if you struggle with the language, smiling and being friendly will get you a long way.

Try to have an open mind - Different countries have different attitudes. People of different genders and animals may be treated differently to the UK.

Not a holiday - Don't expect to be partying (might be a no drinking rule) and a curfew is likely. Honestly though, you quickly find you don't miss it as you are too busy.

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Beware of voluntourism

If you are interested in volunteering abroad I strongly suggest you should stay away from Voluntourism. Voluntourism is the combination of volunteering and tourism and often leads to worsening the lives of the people you are trying to help. You can read more about it here.

The best way to make sure you are volunteering with a reputable charity is to do thorough research. Check their background (a google search will often reveal if a company is genuine), see if they are registered as a non-profit organisation and think critically about the work you will be doing.

You may find this website a good place to start planning your volunteering experience:

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