Volunteering abroad can be a wonderfully rewarding experience. You’ll be meeting amazing people, doing gratifying work, constantly learning, and seeing hidden corners of the world. When you return from your adventure, you’ll be a well-rounded person with plenty of memorable experiences. Of course, there are things that could go wrong during your time abroad, but if you follow our tips below, you can ensure that you’ll have a truly rewarding volunteer abroad experience.
1. Take everything as an adventure
Living in a foreign country is an adventure. Volunteering is an adventure. Throughout the course of your time abroad, you’ll have good days and bad days, but if you think of every moment of your experience as all part of the adventure, you’ll be much happier and have a much more rewarding volunteer experience abroad. Above all, remain flexible.
2. Research the history of the country
Researching the history of the country you’ll be volunteering in will help you better understand the situation the country and its people are in. Once you adequately understand something, you are better equipped to take action. Not only will you have a more rewarding volunteer experience, but the work you do will end up being 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 about the country you have chosen and to share experiences and knowledge with others. Volunteering abroad is an exchange, and when you keep the line of communication open with everyone around you, the exchange of knowledge, skills, stories, and experiences is enhanced. You never know what will come from a conversation with someone.
4. Learn the language
Learning the local language, even just a small part of it, will go a long way you helping you to have a rewarding volunteer abroad experience. Not only is it beneficial for your mind and for your overall skill set to have knowledge of a foreign language, but locals will admire and respect you for taking part 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 connection with your in-country coordinator
It’s a good idea to establish a positive connection between you and your organization’s in-country coordinator. This is the person whose job it is to support you should you have any issues while volunteering abroad. Make sure they know who you are, where you are stationed, and that you have each other’s contact information. Maintaining a good relationship will help you feel safe and supported during your time abroad.
6. Have the right expectations
It’s easy to get very excited about the prospect of volunteering abroad, but this can lead to some very unrealistic expectations. The right 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. Do not expect to make a big difference immediately
When we first set out to start Friends for Thailand we had a clear objective of what we wanted to do and understood that change takes time. Many volunteers end up getting frustrated because things don’t happen as quickly as they are used to. It’s best not to develop grand expectations of how much you are going to accomplish while volunteering abroad. Every situation is different, and every country is different. All you can do is put in the work and remain patient and vigilant. Positive change will come, whether you’ll be there to see it or not.
8. Understand the limitations of developing countries
If you are coming from the western world, you are probably used to having certain things available to you at all times. This is not the case in developing countries. When living in a developing country, it’s essential that you understand how the country functions, what its laws are, how they are related to the culture, and what is and isn’t available. When you understand this and accept it, you’ll have a much more rewarding volunteer abroad experience.
9. Stay positive
Wherever you decide to volunteer, a positive attitude while volunteering abroad will make your experience much better. Although you’ll usually be having a lot of fun, witnessing the conditions of a developing country can sometimes be hard to deal with. Remember to keep a positive attitude – not only will you be helping yourself feel better, but you’ll be helping everyone around you as well.
10. Be committed to volunteering
Too often, volunteers go abroad with the intention of working, but end up not doing much at all. They either get caught up in the idea of partying and socializing, or they decide that the work is too hard and they don’t want to put in the effort.
This really hurts the surrounding community, which is largely dependent on the humanitarian work of volunteers. If you aren’t 100% committed to the act of volunteering, you probably shouldn’t volunteer abroad at all.
Here in Thailand we expect that all candidates that volunteer with us are committed to the projects that we support. When you volunteer in Thailand with us, we expect are volunteers to really get involved and help wherever is needed.
When you decide to volunteer in Thailand with Friends for Thailand you are making a commitment to participate and contribute to long lasting, sustainable change.