Doing volunteer work overseas has a huge range of benefits, whether you are looking for a short jaunt a couple of months long, or a longer-term commitment.
It may seem like a paradox, but donating your time to help others can actually bring you back as much as you give away. Researchers are finding that the centuries-old wisdom of charity actually has a basis in science, with the power to improve your mental and physical wellbeing. Volunteering is a two-way street and as well as the benefits to recipients, volunteers themselves report increased happiness, a greater sense of purpose and even improved career prospects.
As the old saying goes, “charity begins at home,” but that doesn’t mean that it has to end there. Volunteering overseas has a huge range of benefits, whether you are looking for a short jaunt a couple of months long, or a longer-term commitment. When travelling abroad, be aware that you may not be familiar with the issues faced by locals and that not all volunteering positions are ethical or responsible. Do your research and choose a reputable agent which respects the local community and people.
Discover some of the benefits of doing volunteer work overseas:
1. Increased happiness and personal satisfaction.
Giving Time Gives You Time, a study from Harvard Business School found that, “Happier people give more and giving makes people happier, such that happiness and giving may operate in a positive feedback loop.”
If such a cycle of positivity is possible, it’s not surprising that 95 percent of Volunteering Australia survey respondents associated volunteering with feelings of well being and happiness. Volunteers even reported a positive mood change after only a few hours of volunteer work. 82 percent also described themselves as generally satisfied with life, compared to only three quarters of non-volunteers.
2. Improved relationships and social life
Volunteering can open you up to encounter whole new groups of people, which you may not otherwise have met. Especially when doing volunteer work overseas, you will meet an incredibly diverse range of people with points of view, experiences and backgrounds that are not in your usual circle of peers. Broadening your social circle is a great way to expand your mind and see new possibilities.
Not only will you meet a broader range of people, but volunteers report feeling a deeper connection with people and are more trusting of people in general.
Dr. Stephen Carbone, a leader with the mental health organization beyondblue, explains that, “Two of the key components of maintaining positive mental health outcomes come directly from the network around us, such as friends and family, and the way we feel about our place in society overall. Volunteering takes you outside of yourself and your life and gives you the opportunity to connect with new people for a common good in society.”
3. Experience a new culture
Encountering a culture other than the one in which you were raised will inevitably open your mind to completely new ways of living. It’s common for expats and overseas volunteers to gain a great appreciation of their own home and culture while living abroad, as well as learning how to manage in a completely new environment.
4. Improved career prospects
Sharing your professional skills can genuinely help people, and many skills are useful all over the world. Gain a renewed passion for your career by taking some time to use it overseas, in a completely new environment. Employers are generally attracted to resumes which include volunteer work overseas, as it displays an ability to adapt, take the initiative and work outside of your comfort zone. As business becomes more and more globalised, experience abroad is increasingly prized in employees, and volunteer work overseas can really help you to stand out.
Students can supplement their education by completing overseas internships or co-operating with their university to get credits for their volunteer position.
Volunteering can also be a good way to “try out” a new career, if you’re looking for a change. While this may not apply to all professions, it’s certainly possible dip your toes into a new career field via a volunteer placement.
5. Better communication skills
While overseas, you may or may not learn to speak another language, depending on the length of your stay. Regardless, language barriers and cultural differences will force you to become a clearer communicator who can listen to others. Your teamwork skills are likely to improve, as is your ability to get along well with people of vastly different backgrounds, and to develop a deeper empathy for human beings in general.
How to find the right volunteer placement for you:
While doing volunteer work overseas has numerous benefits, that doesn’t mean that every volunteer placement will suit you and give you that “warm, fuzzy feeling” you might be looking for. In order to find the right position for you, do your research and consider taking a few small steps:
- Ask yourself why you want to volunteer in the first place. What are you passionate about? What are you hoping to achieve by volunteering?
- Research different organizations that organise overseas volunteer placements, such as Moving Worlds (movingworlds.org), VSO (vsointernational.org) and Transitions Abroad (transitionsabroad.com).
- Consider volunteering locally. It may seem like there is a lot of romance in travelling abroad to volunteer and help people around the world, but why not try volunteering in your local area?