Volunteering abroad during a gap year can be a life-changing experience. It pushes you out of your comfort zone, gives you the chance to fully immerse yourself in a foreign culture, while also giving back to the local community in whatever way you can. All in all, it is usually a transformative experience that has the potential to make a positive impact on someone's life, and when done right, it can help others.
How volunteering benefits you on a personal and professional level, depends from person to person. However, as a gap year program provider that includes service-learning and volunteer work in all of our semester programs, we’ve noticed a bit of a theme in the volunteer stories of our gap year students.
Keep reading on to learn all about the benefits of volunteering abroad, the different types of volunteer work that are out there and some of the best volunteer programs we have available. Are you willing to take the leap?
What are the benefits of volunteering abroad?
1. Meet new people and create lasting bonds
Many volunteers develop lasting friendships with other volunteers. This doesn’t come as a huge surprise of course. Spending a lot of time working together and sharing an intense experience like overseas charity work is a sure way to develop strong bonds and friendships that can last a lifetime in some cases.
2. It’s the best way to experience new cultures and perspectives
There is no better way to immerse yourself into a new culture than working alongside local communities. You will very quickly learn about the customs and traditions of a country, and create meaningful connections by sharing experiences with local people, bridging the gap that often exists between visitor and host.
3. Get a better idea of your career path
Some students decide to take a gap year because they need more time to figure out what they want to study after high school or they’re lacking motivation in college. Volunteer work exposes them to a new source of inspiration because of the hands-on experience and the people they are interacting with, and many get a better idea of their future career path.
Sometimes, students find a new passion and change their career path based on a volunteer experience. If you want to be a social worker for instance, social volunteering would be perfect for you, because you get to talk to professionals in the field and maybe even eliminate misconceptions you had. Similarly, a future zoologist might want to give a volunteer opportunity in an animal rescue center a go.
4. Volunteering abroad boosts your confidence
Using your skills to do good things for others will give you a natural sense of accomplishment and pride, but more than that, you will also gain confidence in your people skills, adaptability, and maybe even in your ability to learn a new language. There’s no denying your confidence will be boosted after this unique overseas gap year experience.
5. You can really make a difference
Whatever type of volunteer work you want to get into, it should always benefit the community or the environment, and have a long-lasting impact. Sometimes you can really see the results of your hard work developing on your volunteer project, when you’ve painted a classroom, cleaned a beach or built new trails. Other times, your efforts will be less tangible when they have a sustainable long term solution in mind, for instance when promoting environmental awareness or collecting marine data.
6. It can improve your career options
In our current competitive job market, you have to make your resume stand out. One of the ways to do this is to add real-world experiences that prove you’ve practiced important workplace skills like planning and organization, communication, and teamwork.
Volunteer work abroad provides you with this opportunity, and HR managers love seeing it pop up on resumes. Studies have shown that someone who has volunteered in the past has a better chance of finding a job than people who haven’t.
7. Volunteering makes you happier!
The more we give, the happier we feel. Many social studies have proven that there is a real science behind the happiness that generosity brings, proving that happiness amongst volunteers is higher compared to people who never volunteer. One research even showed that even just thinking about giving back lowers you stress levels and blood pressure. So can you imagine what doing the hands-on work does to you?
What types of volunteering are there?
1. Animal welfare
The most popular type of volunteer work abroad is animal welfare or wildlife volunteering. Spending all your time around exotic animals and making a difference in their lives? We can see the appeal!
It’s about so much more than just feeding and bathing the animals though. Although that’s a part of it, many volunteer projects in animal rescue centers and marine conservation also include education about the problems facing the local wildlife and assisting researchers in various aspects of their studies.
Social volunteer work encompasses a wide range of volunteering activities. You might organize sports activities for after school care, build houses as part of a community project, or focus on women’s empowerment and gender equality issues.
Teaching English abroad is another popular type of volunteering. The study of English is highly valued in the communities we visit and students are eager to learn because it gives them more economic opportunities for the future.
Environmental volunteer work comes in all shapes and sizes, ranging from environmental conservation to permaculture projects and sustainable farming. This type of volunteering is usually very hands-on, and has you working outside, creating trails, planting trees, and preserving a country’s biodiversity. Sometimes it will also include some more research-based work, preparing educational materials or thinking of ways to increase environmental awareness.
The best gap year volunteer programs
Community volunteering in South America
There is a lot to love about this gap year program around Peru, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. The cultural immersion, an Amazon rainforest expedition, up-close wildlife encounters and a trekking to the spectacular Machu Picchu to name just a few.
However, the volunteering opportunities in this gap semester always leaves the participants wanting more. At the Llama Pack Project, the students work with local communities to conserve the Andean mountain ecosystems, recover traditional uses of carrier llamas and educate visitors to learn about the Andean way of life.
They also work alongside host families on a community-initiated development project while planning fun activities for the children in the afternoon. During this community project, the students build strong relationships with the families of Agato while experiencing a completely different way of life.
Animal welfare volunteering in Central America
If you are looking for an authentic journey through the ancient ruins and spectacular seascapes of Central America, you can stop the search now. Our gap year program to Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Costa Rica ticks off all the boxes.
The students give back to the community by putting some work in during a marine conservation project with the National Park rangers, and by getting hands-on at a Costa Rican animal rescue center. Students connect with the animals and help them recover from both physical and psychological wounds that have arisen from their past suffering. By the end of the week, the students feel at home at the center and don’t want to leave!
A mix of volunteer work in Thailand
There’s nothing not to love about Thailand. The people are friendly, local cuisine is unbeatable, it’s warm all-year round, and the beaches are some of the best in the world.
The volunteer work you can do in this region of the world is also some of the most diverse and rewarding. Our students care for elephants and do valuable maintenance work in an elephant sanctuary, support a minority tribe in northern Thailand, work alongside an NGO that helps empower at-risk girls, and help with the restoration of natural forest landscapes through an environmental project.
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