When one of my friends from high school returned from volunteering in Central America, she was truly a changed person. As I listened to her share stories from her experience, I was struck by how impactful it had been for her. When she recounted how inspiring the experience was, it was so cool to see how her face lit up and her smile grew bigger. Volunteering abroad has the potential to completely change someone's views on life, and I strongly believe that it's important to take advantage of any opportunity to do so.
1. Why do you want to volunteer abroad?
Although it can be beautiful and incredibly rewarding, if your reasoning for volunteering abroad is solely that it looks good on your resume or you want to travel cheaply, it probably isn't right for you. If you don't have the right attitude, your experience can quickly go downhill. Being in a foreign country is complicated enough without being unhappy with what you're doing. If you choose to volunteer doing something you're passionate about and believe in, your experience will be amazing no matter what speed bumps you encounter along the way.
2. Find an area that suits you.
Once you've decided that you want to volunteer abroad, it's time to figure out what you want to be doing. The opportunities are endless! There are mission trips, health brigades, conservation teams and numerous other groups that you can be a part of. Think about what skills you have that you can potentially use to improve a community. Once you figure out what area you're interested in, you can begin finding an individual program to apply for.
3. Begin researching specific programs.
Now comes the fun part! There are numerous websites dedicated to helping you find a program that works for you, and browsing through all of the opportunities can be incredibly exciting. A few of the most helpful organizations include International Volunteer HQ, GoAbroad, GoOverseas and United Planet. Each one allows you to research either by country or by the area of work that you're interested in.
Although it may seem a little bit intimidating, applying for a volunteer program is actually fairly laid-back and simple. Most of the time you only have to include some basic information about yourself as well as why you're interested in volunteering in the program you chose. It's definitely a lot easier than those college applications that filled weeks of our time last year.
5. Prepare for your trip.
Each trip is different, so make sure to pay close attention to the information that is provided to you through the specific program. Sometimes airfare is included in the total cost, but you usually have to book this on your own. Your packing list will vary based on where you're going and the work you're doing, so it can be incredibly helpful to get in touch with an alum from the program you're doing and ask them what you will need to bring.
6. Enjoy an incredible experience!
All that's left when you're done preparing is to embark on your journey and have the time of your life! When volunteers return from abroad, they usually have entirely different perspectives and viewpoints on life. According to Kelly Brown, a freshman at Cedarville University who volunteered in Chame, Panama: "I honestly feel like my eyes were opened up on a really personal level. One example is two boys I met whose dad was shot right in front of them. That's just not something I could ever even imagine experiencing. I want to show love so much more abundantly and genuinely to others like the people I met there did for me."
Volunteering abroad can have lasting impacts and teach you invaluable lessons. If you have the opportunity to do so, I highly suggest you take it. From learning about a local culture to being able to use your skills to benefit a community, volunteering abroad can help you grow in numerous ways and have lasting effects on who you are as a person.
Lead Image Credit: Kelly Brown