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If you have planned your volunteering trip abroad and still not sure about how to prepare yourself, then you must know that you are not alone! There are several students and gap year travelers who are opting for this, without knowing the basics of volunteering abroad.
Being a volunteer isn’t sufficient – one needs to be a responsible volunteer in order to make some real impact that can eventually lead to sustainable growth. Let’s take a quick look at the things that one should know before traveling abroad to volunteer.
Do a proper study and choose a trusted organization:
There are thousands of volunteer placement organizations all over the world, but you should do a proper research before you choose the organization through which you would travel to a destination abroad. Make sure that it’s a trusted organization, having authentic sources and support base. Read the reviews and the program brochure carefully before you choose your program. Remember that you will pay a substantial amount for this, which will be directly or indirectly helping an underprivileged community. You can choose from organizations like Love Volunteers, Volunteering Solutions, Peace Corps, GoAbroad etc.
Check your documents thoroughly:
This is one of the most important tasks – checking your documents and arranging them properly so that you enter your destination country without any hassle. Check the validity of your passport; organize your VISA and Travel Insurance documents, as well as medical documents (if you have any). You can get in touch with past volunteers who were associated with the same organization through the Facebook communities, and ask them if you need to carry any other relevant papers.
Don’t forget to read the Pre-Departure Brochure:
No matter which organization you choose, they’ll provide you with a Pre-Departure Brochure that’ll have all the detailed information about your project. It’ll also guide you about other things that you need to know – for example, the vaccinations that are required, the safety issues of the country, what to pack for the trip etc. Following the brochure will ease your preparation process.
Do your homework properly:
Well, this part of the job is much more serious than it might sound. Doing your homework starts with reading articles and blogs that are related to your project work. If you are going to volunteer with children, then you must learn about their behavioral patterns, how you can deal more patiently with them and what necessarily your role would be. For this, you can read articles written by previous volunteers, take help of anyone from the family or a friend who knows how to deal with little ones, read about how you can make the classroom environment more cheerful etc.
Learn the language of your destination:
While you’ll have ample scope to learn the local language during your stay, it is good to learn a few words from before. Thanks to the internet – this is no longer a difficult task! Learn the basics of the language like hello, good morning etc. This might be a good way to get closer to your host community as they’ll feel that you’ve made some effort on your side to know and understand them well. You can also download apps like Duolingo/ Google Converter on your smartphone, that’ll help you in need!
Not everyone is your friend:
In a foreign land, make sure that you are in touch with your organization’s in-country coordinator, all the time. This is a safety move as there might be people who will try to rip you off! In many countries, frauds and touts harass the foreign tourists, asking them to pay a huge sum for something that isn’t worth much! Although you won’t really encounter this problem in rural areas, large cities where there are many tourists can be quite dangerous, so be prepared to keep safe.
Pack your stuff carefully:
Undoubtedly, you’ll be excited about your trip – but do pack your stuff carefully. Packing unnecessary things will make no sense. Read about the weather conditions of your placement site and pack accordingly. Carry comfortable clothes as most of the volunteering placement sites would require you to work at grassroots level. Don’t forget to take your comfortable pair of shoes. Your Pre-departure brochure will also have a list of the things that you are supposed to carry, so make sure have ticked all of them. You can carry some props that might be helpful at the project site – for example, if you are going for medical volunteering, then you must definitely take your stethoscope and other scraps.
Set a few goals for yourself:
This is going to be a trip that you’ve never had before. The journey will sweep you off your feet and keep you engaged all the time. For most programs, there are pre-set itineraries for the weekdays and during the weekends, you’ll mostly be traveling to explore. You’ll make new friends and experience new things every day. But you should not forget your goal – why did you choose to take this trip? Prepare a set of questions that will fixate you to your goal, like – What should you learn from this project? How can you effectively make a meaning contribution?
These are certain pointers that you should keep in mind while you plan your volunteer journey abroad. Being a responsible volunteer isn’t an easy job – but if one is open-minded and focused, it can turn out to be the most amazing experience.
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