Every year, thousands of travelers choose to volunteer abroad with International Volunteer HQ, the affordable and trusted volunteer travel organisation. Before joining this growing global community, there are a few things you should be aware of…
1. You’ll be forced to ditch your standard vacation
When taking a vacation with IVHQ, you won’t be lying by a pool wondering where the week went, or keeping to the standard tourist track. You’ll have to save that for the weekends. Instead, IVHQ volunteers are made to engage in learning exchanges with their host communities, while immersed in foreign cultures and working alongside locals to support community development projects. Not your standard vacation by any means - this could see you Teaching English in over 30 destinations, supporting sustainable coffee farming initiatives within a Costa Rican farming community in Monteverde, or contributing Turtle Conservation efforts on the island of Nusa Penida in Bali. Don’t think twice about volunteering abroad if meaningful travel doesn’t mean much to you.
Volunteering made me realize that traveling and doing something meaningful can go hand in hand. I now feel that working internationally is not out of the question. My dreams now are even bigger and I can’t wait to have more adventures like my Bali experience! Megan Ouellette
2. You’ll land a second family
Even if you’re perfectly happy with family life back home, when volunteering abroad with IVHQ, you need to come prepared to take on a new family of international volunteers and your local hosts. Whether or not you go looking for one, you’ll quickly gain a home away from home - an inevitable consequence of being immersed in your host community, supporting community-driven projects and working alongside local people. Consider yourself warned.
As soon as I saw Uganda from the plane flying into Entebbe airport, I knew that I’d found a second home! The staff members, sensational volunteers and everyone at the project changed my life. The culture, hospitality and sheer love from the Ugandan people will stay with me forever more. Elizabeth Pennington
3. You’ll be pushed out of your comfort zone
If you’re not open to traveling with an open mind and exposing yourself to new experiences, new cultural norms, and new ways of life, then volunteering abroad isn’t for you. As an IVHQ volunteer, you’ll be forced right outta that comfort zone - tasting different cuisines, speaking different languages, living in different climates and engaging with different people. If you prefer the sameness of home, we suggest you stay there.
If anyone is hesitant about volunteering in Bogota, just do it. You WILL NOT be disappointed. You WILL be inspired. You WILL meet lifelong friends. You WILL fall in love with Colombia. You WILL push the boundaries of your comfort zone. And you WILL make a positive impact. Diana Jin
4. You’ll be hit by language barriers
Language barriers can pose the biggest battles when it comes to traveling abroad and if you’re visiting a non-English-speaking country, having a conversation with a local person isn’t always smooth sailing. IVHQ volunteers often resort to taking up the language lessons available in country to gain confidence to communicate effectively at their placements or homestays. If you’re of an English all day, everyday mindset, consider volunteering in New Zealand.
I took advantage of the Spanish classes which were reasonably priced and also participated in the free Tandem Conversation program where I was partnered with a lovely Guatemalan lady who wanted to practice her English-speaking skills. I helped her with her English and she helped me with my Spanish. We’ve stayed in contact. The volunteer experience itself was more than I’d hoped for. Deborah Cooke
5. You’ll change…
One of the most significant side effects of volunteering abroad is the change it drives in individuals. In the majority of cases, an internation volunteer experience will drive a change of mindset, a follow-on effect from growing global awareness. You can also expect to see your confidence levels spike - whether that be confidence in traveling solo, speaking another language, perfecting a particular skill, or developing your intercultural communication skills. In turn, you can return home feeling confident that you’ve made a contribution to a community that values your support. However, if open-mindedness and a willingness to learn are out of the question, you won’t be in a position to make a valuable contribution to your host community.
It was my first ever overseas trip, completely by myself, halfway across the world to such a beautiful continent! It was a life changing experience, I experienced highs and lows (as you do with anything) and I really found myself. I’m the young woman I was destined to be and that is all thanks to IVHQ for helping me get to Tanzania! It was the best three months of my life, and not every nineteen year old can say that they’ve seen what I have. I’m grateful for everyone who I came across and everyone who I was able to help whether my impact was big or small. I can’t wait until my next trip! I think of my journey every single day. @achiev3all via Instagram
6. You may need to rethink your career path
Even in you’re not seeking a new career direction, when you escape your daily grind and gain exposure to fresh sources of inspiration, you could be forced to reconsider where you’re heading with your career or study path. Whether it be through exposure to new cultures or methods of doing things, travel opens your mind to alternative ways of thinking that can support both your personal and professional development. Volunteering abroad takes this to the next level, forcing you to develop your existing skills, pick up new ones, or even discover a passion or career path that you would like to explore further. It’s not uncommon to meet an IVHQer who decides to switch study paths or career directions following an international volunteer experience, or someone who is volunteering after graduation before deciding what to do next.
I was well on my way to becoming a teacher when I volunteered with IVHQ. I had taken all of the classes needed and was only missing my student-teaching practicum. However, I had never been in a culture so different from my own, had never traveled solo, and had never spent extensive time volunteering before my summer in Tanzania. I’d played with the idea of teaching abroad, and Tanzania was a test-run. By the time I started my senior year of college, a short month after my return from Africa, I let my parents know I’d be searching for jobs abroad in the winter. My search led me here, to El Salvador, where I’ve been for almost three years teaching fourth grade. Megan Sloter
7. You’ll struggle with life after it
After your first volunteer trip, it becomes increasingly difficult to gain the same level of satisfaction from a traditional vacation - just ask the hundreds of IVHQ volunteers who come back to volunteer every year. You’ll become fixated with seeking our meaningful travel opportunities that allow you to make valuable contributions to a community, while exploring a new country and culture. As an added struggle post-IVHQing, your weekends back home suddendly won’t feel as fun, and your friends just won’t get it. When you’re used to taking a safari through the Serengeti, exploring ancient temples, or chasing waterfalls, being back home will bring on a bad case of the travel bug #thestruggleisreal.
Still interested? Whether you’re looking to volunteer abroad for 1 week or 6 months, IVHQ and our local teams will ensure that you are contributing to sustainable and impactful projects alongside other international volunteers. To discover more, see our full range of volunteer abroad programs here.