7 Ways Volunteering Abroad Will Change You
We define an IVHQ volunteer (or IVHQer) as someone who travels to change lives but who unintentionally changes their own. While we’re told that this definition resonates with those who volunteer abroad with us, it’s not so easy to define exactly how volunteering abroad will change you. But believe me, it does. Here’s why…
1. Your concept of home changes. Instantly.
It doesn’t matter whether you stay for 2 weeks or 20, or whether you volunteer in Costa Rica or Cambodia, it goes without saying that you’ll instantly feel at home, and well supported by your local hosts. As an IVHQer, you quickly come to understand the concept of a “home away from home” while having the opportunity to observe local traditions, learn about the local way of life, sample traditional cuisine, upskill in the local language, and live alongside other international volunteers. Disclaimer: Many IVHQers find that saying goodbye to friends and family at home is difficult, and soon realize that the goodbyes at the other end are often harder.
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
2. You grow more confident
Whether that be confidence in traveling solo, speaking another language, perfecting a particular skill, or developing your intercultural communication, there’s no denying that your confidence will be boosted through your volunteer experience. In turn, you can return home feeling confident that you’ve made a contribution to a community that values your support.
Volunteering abroad let me be able to know that I am capable of doing anything on my own. I learned how to truly fall in love with myself, the world, and everyone around me. Volunteering while seeing the world made me become more aware and mindful of my life and left me feeling satisfied yet hungry for more adventure! Alex Lee
3. You develop a more global mindset
As many IVHQers are traveling internationally for the first time, it is envitable that volunteering abroad will challenge and change your mindset, while developing your global cultural awareness. One of the most common pieces of advice that our alumni share with future IVHQers is to travel with an open mind. Your volunteer experience will come with its rewards and challenges, so if you come with an open mind, a willingness to learn and put yourself out of your comfort zone, you will be in the best position to make a valuable contribution to your host community, and get the most out of your experience as an international volunteer.
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
4. You become more patient
Patience and a willingness to learn are two of the most important traits of an international volunteer. There’s no denying the mutually-beneficial learning exchange that develops between you and your host community, however you will quickly discover that patience is a necessity to facilitate this - especially when you’re working with language barriers. As we offer volunteering opportunities in over 30 destinations around the world, IVHQers have the ability to develop their intercultural communication skills (and in turn their patience) through interactions with volunteers from other countries, as well as the communities in which they work. These relationships allow you to return home with an enhanced intercultural understanding and the ability to adapt your communication style to engage with new groups of people - a trait that can support you in many aspects of life.
I volunteered in Vietnam and Cambodia by assisting in NGO programs. This was my third time volunteering internationally and I learned something new from each experience. I learned with IVHQ to embrace patience and understanding as many changes happened while I was volunteering in Vietnam. I also learned to create my own opinion based on my personal experience. Everyone has an opinion but each individual will have a different experience depending on which perspective they choose to embrace and who they are as a person. @ssteps via Instagram
5. You seek more meaning in your travel
After your first volunteer trip, it becomes increasingly difficult to gain the same level of satisfaction from a traditional vacation - so it’s not surprising to see so many returning volunteers each year. One of the benefits of volunteering abroad with IVHQ is that we support volunteers in making valuable contributions to community development and environmental projects, while making the most of their time in a new country. With the weekends free, volunteers can explore their host countries and cultures together. If ticking off must-dos, natural wonders, and the best beaches appeal to you, there’s no reason why you can’t do something meaningful at the same time - whether that be supporting local teachers in taking an English classes, contributing your professional skills to an NGO Support project, or supporting Wildlife Conservation efforts and research.
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
6. You change your career path
If you’re lacking motivation in your studies or work, seeking a new career direction, or simply needing to take a break, international travel is a powerful way to escape the daily grind, rejuvinate, and gain exposure to fresh sources of inspiration to guide the next stages of your career. Whether it be through the people you meet, the cultures you engage with, or a new method of doing something, travel opens your mind to alternative ways of thinking that can support both your professional and personal development. Volunteering abroad takes this to the next level. While being immersed in endless sources of inspiration to challenge your thinking, you in turn have the opportunity 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 or career paths following their 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 realize you can’t change the world without a squad…
While you understand that one volunteer may not have the capacity to single-handedly change the world, when you’re working in an environment alongside others with the same drive and desire to help, you see that small collective efforts can make a big difference. Plus knowing that there will be others to build on your work is a motivating factor for IVHQ volunteers, many of whom return to their placements in future years to offer continued support.
My experience had IVHQ showed me exactly what I was meant to be doing in this world. My experience opened my eyes and heart and showed me a love for this world I didn’t know before. I met some incredible people and some even more amazing children in my teaching experience. I’ve been able to share my stories with others and help secure sponsorship for kids on my second trip back. Nothing is more amazing than being able to tell a child and their family that someone is going to send them to school. To see how much love can be shared by what seems like such a small contribution has made me truly see how much good there is in this world and how impactful it can be to empower someone - to give them the resources necessary - to allow them to be able to change their future. Mallory Boulter
To learn more about where you can volunteer abroad with IVHQ, check out our full range of destinations here.
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