Volunteering abroad can be a wonderfully rewarding experience. You will meet great people, do satisfying work, constantly learn and see hidden corners of the world. When you return from your adventure, you are a versatile person with many memorable experiences. Of course, things can go wrong during your time abroad, but by following our tips below, you can ensure that you have a truly rewarding experience as a volunteer abroad.
1. Think of everything as an adventure
Living abroad is an adventure. Volunteering is an adventure. Over the course of your time abroad, you will have good and bad days, but if you consider every moment of your experience part of the adventure, you will be much happier and have a much more valuable volunteer experience abroad. Above all, stay flexible.
2. Explore the history of the country
By researching the history of the country in which you will volunteer, you will gain a better understanding of the situation in which the country and the people find themselves. Once you understand something well, you are better equipped to take action. Not only will you have a more rewarding volunteer experience, but the work you do will ultimately be more beneficial to the local community.
3. Talk to people
Talk to the locals. Talk to your fellow volunteers. This is the best way to learn more about the country you have chosen and to share experiences and knowledge with others. Volunteering abroad is an exchange, and keeping the line of communication open with everyone around you enhances the exchange of knowledge, skills, stories and experiences. You never know what will come out of a conversation with someone.
4. Learn the language
Learning the local language, even just a small part of it, will go a long way towards having a rewarding volunteer experience abroad. Not only is it good for your mind and for your overall skills to have knowledge of a foreign language, but the locals will admire and respect you for participating in their culture. Learning the local language is also a great way to get to know a culture as they are closely linked.
5. Develop a relationship with your local coordinator
It’s a good idea to establish a positive relationship between you and your organization’s local coordinator. This is the person whose job it is to support you if you encounter any difficulties while volunteering abroad. Make sure they know who you are, where you are stationed, and that you have each other’s contact details. By maintaining a good relationship, you feel safe and supported during your stay abroad.
6. Have the right expectations
It’s easy to get very excited about the prospect of volunteering abroad, but this can lead to very unrealistic expectations. The correct expectation is to have no expectations at all. Take each day as it comes and just be present in the moment during your time abroad.
7. Don’t expect to make a big difference right away
When we first started Friends for Thailand, we had a clear goal of what we wanted to do and understood that change takes time. Many volunteers get frustrated because things don’t go as fast as they used to. It is best not to develop big expectations about how much you will achieve when you volunteer abroad. Every situation is different, and every country is different. All you can do is do your best and remain patient and vigilant. Positive change will come whether you are there to see it or not.
8. Understand the limitations of developing countries
If you’re from the western world, you’re probably used to having certain things always available to you. This is not the case in developing countries. If you live in a developing country, it is essential that you understand how the country functions, what the laws are, how they relate to the culture and what is and isn’t available. If you understand and accept this, you will have a much more valuable volunteer experience abroad.
9. Stay Positive
Wherever you decide to volunteer, a positive attitude while volunteering abroad will make your experience that much better. While you will usually have a lot of fun, witnessing the conditions in a developing country can sometimes be difficult. Remember to keep a positive attitude – you will not only help yourself to feel better, but you will also help everyone around you.
10. Be Committed to Volunteering
Too often, volunteers go abroad with the intention of working, but end up not doing much. Either they get caught up in the idea of partying and socializing, or they decide the work is too hard and don’t want to put in the effort.
This harms the surrounding community, which is largely dependent on the humanitarian work of volunteers. If you’re not 100% committed to volunteering, you probably shouldn’t be volunteering abroad at all.
Here in Thailand, we expect all candidates who volunteer with us to commit to the projects we support. When you volunteer with us in Thailand, we expect volunteers to be really involved and help where needed.
When you decide to volunteer in Thailand with Friends for Thailand, you are making a commitment to participate and contribute to long-lasting, lasting change.
Friends for Thailand is a grassroots volunteer organization. We offer volunteer placements in small rural schools and orphanages with the aim of helping and supporting underprivileged children.