As a teen, volunteering abroad is sure to be an enriching and inspiring experience that will have profound impact on you. You’ll be able to engage in meaningful community development projects while experiencing a new country and culture, in a safe and supportive environment. It’s an experience that will stay with you for life and every year thousands of teens choose to volunteer abroad with International Volunteer HQ - the trusted provider of safe and affordable volunteer opportunities for teens in more than 40 destinations. If you’re wanting to travel and volunteer with a group of students from your high school, we can customize an itinerary for your group too!
Here’s what you’ll learn from this article:
- How old do I have to be to volunteer abroad?
- What are the benefits of volunteering abroad as a teenager?
- Key information for your parents
- How volunteering abroad as a teen impacted me
- Expert tips for volunteering abroad as a teen
- Recommended volunteer opportunities abroad for teen volunteers
- How to apply to volunteer abroad
How old do I have to be to volunteer abroad?
Don’t let age be a barrier! If you are volunteering abroad under 18, you can volunteer with a parent, guardian, or relative who is 18 years or older. Volunteering with a family member can be an awesome experience that brings you closer and gives your family holidays a greater sense of purpose. This means you can roll up your sleeves and get stuck in on the same meaningful project and when you have downtime you can head out together and explore all your destination has to offer. It doesn’t get much better than that.
If that isn’t the right option for you, don’t worry, you can still apply ahead of your 18th birthday and then volunteer independently with IVHQ after your big day. This will give you plenty of time to thoroughly prepare, which can be especially useful when it comes to saving for your trip abroad.
What are the benefits of volunteering abroad for teens?
There is no doubt that volunteering as a teenager is a great way to add to your education and it will stand out on your college application and resume. After all, nothing teaches you more than traveling the world and accumulating experiences. Our local team will ensure you are matched to a placement which will allow you to make a valuable contribution to the project and community you are volunteering in. Crossing boundaries to work side-by-side with people from different parts of the world fosters global understanding and is something every volunteer on an IVHQ program takes away from their time abroad. Not only that but living in a country different to your own means that you will be immersed in a new culture, cuisine, and way of thinking. This time abroad will shape you and how you work as a team, manage time and communicate with others.
Already having experience living away from home is an added bonus when it comes time head off to college, suddenly freshman year doesn’t seem quite so daunting when you’ve traveled all the way to Nairobi and back again. Actually, you’ll find that you feel that way about most situations you face when you return home.
So what about my parents?
Chances are your parents will also be keen to learn more about IVHQ, especially if they are coming with you, so make sure they read our information for parents as you continue to explore our teen volunteer abroad programs. No doubt you have already fielded questions around your safety while abroad. You aren’t alone! Having placed more than 80,000 volunteers abroad, we’re always happy to speak with parents to ensure all their questions are answered and they feel comfortable with your volunteer trip plans. Through our online safety training, comprehensive information booklets, ongoing support from experienced Program Managers, and round-the-clock support from our local teams - volunteers are well supported to make the most of their time abroad.
How volunteering as a teen impacted me:
By: Grace Dalton, USA, IVHQ teen volunteer
Going into the IVHQ program, I didn’t really know what to expect at all. It wasn’t until I arrived with my sister and mom at the school where we would be teaching music for the next six weeks that the whole thing truly hit me. Volunteering in Kenya as a teenager completely changed my perspective on the world.
We come from Virginia, United States of America, and to see, teach, and even live with all these children who are so full of smiles and laughter but have a life completely different to mine was both eye-opening and heartening to witness.
Volunteering was a really humbling experience. I consider traveling a huge part of my life, thanks to my mom who has given my sister and I the great opportunity to see the world at a young age. In my experience, volunteering is the best way to travel. You get to live in a completely new corner of the Earth but help other people in the process. I encourage anyone, if the funds and time are available to you, then go and experience this.
It’s definitely hard work, and it can be tiring. Working with children can be difficult, especially as a teenager, because sometime kids will try to question your authority. On the flip side, they also see you as a friend because you’re closer in age. But one thing you can know without a doubt is that working with children pays off. Seeing the kids enjoy themselves, singing all together and laughing, makes it all worth it. Knowing that you’ve made an impact in their life, no matter how small, drives me as a volunteer. I’m sure it’s true for all the projects. Hard work pays off, every time.
Tips from an under 18 volunteer:
- Overpacking is something you definitely want to avoid, especially if you think you think you’re going to carry your luggage frequently. Bring durable clothing that’s easily mixed and matched, and leave unnecessarily heavy or valuable items at home.
- Before you leave home (especially if you’re going to be away for a long time), spend a day with your friends and loved ones you’re leaving at home. You’ll have a good memory of them while you’re away, and have a chance to get everyone’s contact information so you’ll stay in touch while away.
- Try to live as a local. Eat the local food, observe the traditions and customs of those around you, and learn at least a few words of the language if it is foreign to you. Even one or two words never fail to impress the locals.
- Talk to your friends and family back home frequently, but stay off your phone/technology during the day. Take in the new sights around you.
- On the same note, don’t view the world through your phone. It’s important, and extremely tempting, to take plenty of pictures on your trip but there needs to be a balance between snapping lots of great candids and just viewing the sights for yourself. As a fifteen year old girl, I know how hard that can be. Really. But it pays off to put your phone down and watch that sunset, halfway around the world from home, and just have it as a memory.
- Remember it’s extremely common to be feel homesick, but the best way to combat it is throwing yourself into your work. You’ll be home before you know it and wishing you were abroad again so make the most of it.
- Spend time with your host family. Letting strangers into your house constantly, cooking for them, and keeping them occupied is no easy feat for anyone. Your host family is giving up their privacy for you to help others and experience the world from a completely new perspective. Sit down with them, ask them how they decided to host travelers, ask them about the area, and be sure to thank them for all they’ve done.
- Don’t rely on finding your favorite food in any restaurant in the area. Even if they do have it on the menu, it’s almost certainly not much like the version you’re used to at home. This is coming from someone who’s had yak cheese pizza from Nepal. It was a new experience that’s for sure.
- Take it all in, take as many pictures as possible, try to keep a travel journal - You’ll want to remember this trip.
Recommended volunteer opportunities for teens:
To give you a sample of the volunteer programs available for teenagers, we’ve listed seven programs perfect for our teen travelers below…
Volunteer in Fiji
“If you’re a first-time volunteer traveler, or this is your first trip abroad, volunteering in Fiji is sure to spark a life-time love of international travel. You’ll quickly discover why Fijians are regarded as the world’s friendliest people as you’re welcomed into their villages, giving you the unique opportunity to experience their customs and traditions first hand. Our teen volunteers in Fiji enjoy the opportunity to contribute to projects in local schools and kindergartens, providing support to teachers in coordinating sports and classroom activities, or assisting with construction and renovation initiatives. For your weekends, come prepared for snorkeling, hiking and relaxing on a white sand beach alongside your newfound volunteer friends.” - Ellen Varoy (IVHQ Community Manager)
Volunteer in Bali
“When thinking about the ideal destination for your first trip abroad, Bali should definitely be at the top of your list! Whether you’re into relaxing at the beach, trying to get a bargain at the local market or wanting to meet like-minded international volunteers, Bali is the location for you! Our teen volunteers in Bali enjoy convenient travel around Bali in the weekends, cheap tourist activities and some awesome local cuisine. There are many volunteering projects in Bali which appeal to our teen volunteers, such as Turtle Conservation, Construction and Renovation, and Kindergarten. The IVHQ Bali program offers volunteers a unique insight into the Balinese culture right from day one of the orientation, so you’ll feel right at home and fully prepared for your upcoming volunteering work. If you are after a culturally-rich, exciting and worthwhile volunteering location, you cannot look past Bali!” - Kirsty Jamieson (IVHQ Program Manager)
Volunteer in the Philippines
“Teen volunteers can experience the best of volunteering as well as the stunning Palawan Island when on the Philippines Program. The projects are all about making the most of your time abroad. It doesn’t matter if you choose the Kindergarten project, Teaching project, Construction and Renovation project or the Environmental project, the emphasis is on volunteering while enjoying yourself. How can you not when you are literally right on the beach? Downtime can be spent spent exploring Palawan and weekends island hopping. Volunteering just got a whole lot more exciting and what a great program to begin your IVHQ experience!” - Lynn Blair (IVHQ Program Manager)
Volunteer in New Zealand
“New Zealand is an awesome destination for a teen to volunteer abroad, or for a first time traveler. World-renowned for being one of the friendliest and most relaxed countries, you will be welcomed with open arms into the safe and English-speaking culture. While volunteering in New Zealand you can contribute to conservation-focused projects, working on Coast and Waterway Conservation or NGO Support. The program is based in Auckland which is a central travel hub for heading to other parts of the country on your free weekends. Head north to Cape Reinga, the most northern part of the North Island, or jump on a plane to get a bit further and escape the hustle and bustle of Auckland with a weekend getaway to Queenstown - perfect for all the adrenaline junkies out there.” - Hailey Jurd (IVHQ Community Co-ordinator)
Volunteer in Costa Rica
“Costa Rica, one of the most popular volunteer destinations among our North American travelers, is not only large on volunteer opportunities but also provides a very large foundation of energetic and efficient local support and a very welcoming network of volunteers in country. With a vast range of wonderful host families, you can be sure that your first volunteer experience or even travel experience is a safe, reliable and enjoyable one. Take advantage of the fantastic Spanish school, Salsa lessons or explore the surrounding rain forests, cloud forests, marine areas, and unique black and grey sand beaches. With a wide range of projects including Turtle Conservation, Eco Agriculture Conservation, Construction and Renovation and Childcare, this program not only has the potential to spark a passion for exploring new culture and travel, but also add some great experience to your CV and start you on your way to a successful career.” - Hannah Hill Parker (IVHQ Program Manager)
Volunteer in Ecuador
“Ecuador is a fantastic option for teen volunteers planning to travel with a guardian, or even families. You can choose between the Ecuador Program based in Quito, or the Ecuador - Santa Elena, based on the coast. Both options offer structured programs and excellent opportunity to take advantage of private Spanish language lessons (optional) in conjunction with the volunteering schedule. Volunteers are hosted by local families in southern Quito, within close proximity to the program base and city comforts. Expect to remain focused during the week and (if participating for more than the one-week minimum) enjoy long weekends, with ample time to explore the urban attractions of Quito (a UNESCO World Heritage site) or travel further afield to beautiful destinations such as the Galapagos, the Amazon, Los Baños, Mindo, or the beaches of Montañita.” - Dallas Boyd (IVHQ Program Manager)
Volunteer in Zambia
“Zambia is the perfect location for young volunteers. An often forgotten jewel of Africa, life in Livingstone is a mix of traditional charm with all the modern amenities, friendly locals and a local team that is on hand 24/7. Young volunteers have the opportunity to work in the local community with children and the elderly, or for the young volunteer who wants to try it all, we have our Community Development project. During your free time, volunteers can check out the local markets and shops, have a lazy day in a hammock at the accommodation, pop over to nearby Botswana for a safari, venture to Zimbabwe to check out the amazing Victoria Falls, or take advantage of the amazing array of adventure sports on offer.” - Claire Chambers (IVHQ Program Manager)
If you are ready to pack your bags and experience a completely different lifestyle, culture and change your perspective then you can find out more about volunteering with IVHQ here. Remember though, you do need to be over the age of 18 to volunteer independently, otherwise you will need to volunteer with a parent, or guardian who is over the age of 18.