SVW 2013: Volunteering at home and abroad

Posted on: 12 February 2013

International Volunteering is an increasingly popular way to see the world for young travellers. Volunteering locally before you go is a great way to develop your skills, test your motivation and dedication, and give back to your community.

As a part of my first experience of worldwide backpacking two years ago, I volunteered on a turtle-conservation project in Costa Rica. As a result, I became interested in researching responsible volunteering upon returning. I was concerned that my involvement in the conservation project had not been as beneficial to the charity or myself than I had initially hoped. The company I booked it through took a large commission, meaning much of the money I had spent had been directed away from the charity.

However, as much as my own experience of international volunteering raised a number of questions about how best to take part in overseas projects responsibly, the experience was, overall, a very positive one.

Cambridge IDC 2012

Firstly, who wouldn’t jump at the chance to experience life in a another culture, in my case living in the Costa Rican jungle, eating rice and beans for all three meals, and being woken up by howler monkeys every morning? Taking part in such a project also involves spending time and bonding with likeminded volunteers from all corners of the globe, working together to achieve the same end. I was fortunate enough to also be able to work with local villagers whilst I volunteered abroad, none of whom spoke English, and so I was able to practice my language skills at the same time as learning about their way of life.

In order to do so, it is always a good idea to gain as much information and possible, and prepare for what to expect before taking part in a volunteering project overseas. A great way to do this is to volunteer a little closer to home, as doing so helps you to gauge what to expect, and what skills are required to take part in a larger, international volunteering project. This will allow you to develop a huge number of skills, gain useful experience, learn and prepare yourself to volunteer abroad more effectively. If you are interested in a placement abroad teaching English, there are plenty of volunteering opportunities in schools in the UK that can help prepare you. Equally, if you are interested in a volunteering project in animal conservation, volunteering in a local animal shelter will allow you to gain a better idea about what will be expected of you.

Student Volunteering Week is this week, celebrating all that is good about student volunteering. This event aims to commend the efforts of students in all areas of voluntary projects and endeavours. It brings together multiple organisations from all sectors, to promote the volunteering efforts of students nationwide, combining a national, media profile and campus based events and activities. This provides the perfect chance to find out more about volunteering both at home and overseas, and to discover charities and organisations that can provide a huge variety of volunteering opportunities.

Impact international is a nation-wide initiative aiming to promote responsible, responsive and sustainable international volunteering. To find out more, visit the website and follow @impact_intl.

Emily Frost

Emily is currently a student at the University of Southampton. She is a keen writer and blogger, and a member of the Impact International Committee, using her experience of volunteering abroad to conduct research into more effective methods of volunteering.

Tags: International Development, Social Action, Student Voice

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