Congrats on finishing your volunteer abroad program with International Volunteer HQ!
There’s a lot to celebrate and be proud of; you’ve made a positive impact within the local community, you’ve contributed your time and energy to an important cause, you’ve gotten out of your comfort zone, immersed yourself in a different culture, grown as a person, met like minded people, and seen some amazing places. Go you!
Here at IVHQ, we know that returning home can be bittersweet. You’ve changed but will people at home still ‘get’ you? How do you even begin to explain what you’ve experienced while you’ve been away? And, most importantly – what’s next?!
It’s crucial that you give yourself time to rest and reintegrate back home, because believe it or not reverse culture shock is a thing! And don’t worry, we’re here to make the transition easy and enjoyable.
Once I came back home, I had a little bit of cultural adjustment in the first couple of weeks. In Ghana, there are people everywhere, they are so warm-hearted and always say hi. In the US it’s different, people don’t really talk to each other. It’s a bit of an adjustment but give yourself time and you’ll be fine. 3 x IVHQ volunteer, Hong Liu
This is the beginning of the rest of your life – an exciting new chapter! Here are our top tips for reintegrating back into home life and how to make the most of what you’ve learnt from your volunteer abroad experience going forward…
1. Reflect on your volunteer experience
Volunteering abroad has given you the unique opportunity to see your life through a new lens. This is an absolute gift! It’s really valuable to process and reflect on the experience you’ve had for your own self-development. This could be through discussing your thoughts with a friend or family member, journaling, or simply asking yourself some reflective questions.
If you’re not sure where to start, here are few ideas:
- What have you learned about yourself from volunteering abroad? What are your strengths and what areas do you want to work on?
- Have there been any shifts in how you view the world? How can you incorporate these into your life?
- Do you have any new goals or ambitions after this experience? What do you feel called to do next?
I didn’t want to come home, I wish I had longer! Give yourself time to reflect on the trip and what it meant for you. And hopefully figure out a way to do it again if you have the opportunity! 6 x IVHQ volunteer, Madeline Stanton
2. Embrace reverse culture shock
Coming back home can be a bit of a shock to the system, especially if you’ve been away for a while. You might wake up in your own bed again and think, “Was it all a dream?”
Besides the obvious cultural and time differences between your home country and the country you’ve been volunteering in, the real challenge often lies in reconnecting with people back home. You probably feel like you’ve changed during your time away and sometimes it can be difficult to relate to people when you return home. The key is to be proactive about it!
Reach out to friends and family and schedule in some quality time to catch up with them. Talk to them openly about your experience and how it has impacted you. This is a great way to bring you closer together. And if they don’t get it, that’s fine too. Not everyone will, but at least you tried!
It’s almost like there’s a language barrier in terms of explaining what you’ve experienced to people who haven’t done these types of trips. There are certain people who just understand and can totally empathize with certain experiences, but there’s a massive disconnect between you and people who haven’t done this type of travel. You can’t explain that to people, but that’s the most exciting part - that feeling you get from volunteering abroad. 5 x IVHQ volunteer, Stephen Jagard
3. Inspire others with your story
Be an advocate for the cause you’ve contributed towards. Share what the volunteer project is all about and why this initiative is important, raise awareness of the social or environmental issues that your host country is facing, amplify voices within the local community, and inspire others to get involved!
Get creative with how you share! Here are some ideas:
- Share your photos and videos on social media and tag @ivhq
- Send us your story and we’ll share it on our social channels
- Write a guest blog for the IVHQ website
- Speak at events, your school, workplace, or college
You never know, by sharing your experience, you could give others the confidence and reassurance to take the leap and volunteer abroad themselves! How cool is that?
4. Stay part of the IVHQ community
If you’ve volunteered abroad with IVHQ, you’re likely to have made some awesome new friendships during your time away. While things can feel a little stagnant once you’ve returned home, that doesn’t mean you can’t still be part of a fun and thriving travel community!
- Join your program’s dedicated IVHQ Facebook group to stay in touch with everyone you met and see updates from the local team. Volunteers who are planning their trips als post their questions and concerns here, soo why not help them out with information from your own experience? To find your program’s dedicated Facebook group, search “IVHQ + [destination name]” in Facebook
- Connect with your fellow volunteers on WhatsApp and social media to stay in touch
- Organize some meetups and reunions with your IVHQ crew, particularly if any of them are living nearby!
- If you’d like to hear from the wider IVHQ community, join the main IVHQ Facebook group, follow us on Instagram and TikTok, and sign up to the IVHQ Newsletter for regular updates and special offers!
5. Let your volunteer experience guide your studies or career
Volunteering abroad may have allowed you to explore a new career path or field of study, such as Medical, Teaching, Conservation, and working with NGOs. But even if your project doesn’t directly correlate to the field you’re interested in, it’s likely to have opened your eyes to new ways of working, communicating, problem solving, and much more!
So, how can you use this going forward? If you’re at school or college, choose courses and clubs that inspire you and build on the skills you learnt while abroad. Keep learning more about the topic you volunteered in, or the language the locals were speaking!
Think about what you enjoyed about volunteering – can you incorporate that into your job or studies? Perhaps it’s time for a career change? Or do you want to integrate some of the self awareness and cultural intelligence you’ve developed into your current job?
Pro tip: Add to your volunteer experience and Certificate of Completion to your LinkedIn profile and resume. It’s sure to make you stand out to employers and is a great conversation starter in interviews!
I quit my job and volunteered for two months, from program to program. It helped me define my personal purpose and change my career to something I’m really passionate about. I love my work everyday and it really brings meaning into my life. Every single IVHQ program is still on my resume today! 6 x IVHQ volunteer, Madeline Stanton
6. Thank anyone who donated to your volunteer project
Did you fundraise for your volunteer trip? Thank everyone who contributed and let them know how much they helped! Send out a little update to tell them the impact of your volunteering and the outcome of the project.
Remember, it’s okay to be honest! Maybe more help is needed within the local community or the project experienced setbacks. That is sometimes the reality of volunteering in countries and communities that are under-resourced and it’s important for people to know about and understand these complexities!
Whatever the outcome of your project, there’s still much to be grateful for on a trip that is likely to have impacted your own life.
7. Plan your next adventure!
Got the travel bug? Feeling the wanderlust? It’s highly likely that after a couple of days back home, you’ll already be thinking about the next adventure! Whether you want to return to the same program or try something completely new, every IVHQ trip is a unique experience that allows you to learn, grow and explore in different ways.
Once you get hit by the travel bug, it doesn’t go away. There’s something about these experiences that is equivalent to the essence of what it means to be alive. It’s the feeling of doing everything you can be and should be doing! 5 x IVHQ volunteer, Stephen Jagard
8. Explore what’s on your doorstep
If you can’t start planning your next trip straight away (or even if you can), why not do some exploring around your hometown? It’s so easy to take our own country for granted when everything’s right on our doorstep, but often once we’ve been away traveling we find a new sense of appreciation for our roots.
Be a tourist in your hometown! Why not try…
- Exploring new neighborhoods, food, art, music and cultural activities around where you live
- Volunteering within your local community — where can you add value? What charities or initiatives need help?
- Making new friends who live locally by joining clubs and meetups
- Supporting your IVHQ host organization remotely from home via fundraising initiatives or donating supplies
So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and start your next chapter!