Questions to Ask Before You Volunteer Abroad

All in all, volunteering abroad can be a rewarding experience for both you, and the community – just be sure you do your homework before you go to avoid disappointment. 

Volunteers in action. Photo courtesty of inkyhack [flickr.com]

Here are some questions we think you should ask before heading overseas to volunteer.

Ask Yourself:

Establishing your expectations is the likely the most important preparation you can undertake before volunteering abroad.  Are you expecting to change yourself, or change the world? Can you accept that no matter how much time and effort you put in, the job may never get done? Taking that a step further, can you find solace in knowing that your time and effort are ALWAYS valuable?

A Few Other Questions You Should Consider Before Volunteering:

  • What are you looking to get out of this? Experientially? Socially? Educationally?
  • Are you OK leaving your comfort zone?
  • How well do you cope with language barriers?
  • Do you mind going few days without showering?
  • Can you cope with different hygienic practices of other cultures?
  • Are you able to recognize that right or wrong, countries have different gender roles than you are used to?
  • What are your expectations of the culture and community you are working in?
  • What are the expectations you have of the people you will be working with?
  • What are the expectations you have of yourself to contribute to the community?
  • How do you expect to feel when you return home?

Ask the Voluntourism Operator:

Here are a few questions to ask operators to make sure you’ve found a genuinely sustainable project that’s right for you:

  • What is the average age of volunteers on this project?
  • Can I chat with volunteers that have done this project before?
  • What work will I be doing mainly? For how many hours a day? For how many days a week?
  • Do I need to speak another language to really enjoy this project? Is there a translator nearby if I need one?
  • What are the accommodations like? Will I have to share? Do I need to bring a sleeping bag?
  • What kind of food can I expect to eat?
  • What’s included in the project fee? Meals? Lodging? Will I need to pay anything else in country?

Then There Are the General Safety Questions:

  • What is the emergency evacuation plan should a natural disaster, riot, etc happen?
  • Where is the nearest hospital or clinic?
  • Is there a number that my parents/friends/loved ones can call me at to make sure I’ve arrived safely?
  • Is there a number I can call 24/7 to get help?
  • Is there someone from your company in country to help/advise me?
  • Do I need to get any immunizations before I go?
  • Are there certain clothes I shouldn’t wear because of cultural norms?

Cuddle a lion with African Impact's volunteer programs
Yes, you too can cuddle a lion! Photo courtesy of AfricanImpact

We asked voluntourism operator AfricanImpact.com's Sarah Graham her thoughts on the most important question to ask.

"The number one question prospective volunteers should ask is ‘where does the money go?’ Whilst volunteering is about your participation and your input, it is important to know where how much of your project fee is actually benefiting the community too. And it varies widely. The company that you book with should be transparent and will be able to give you a breakdown. Do bear in mind that not all the money goes in country as there are costs involved in marketing online, producing brochures, staff salaries and having an office. However, the local communities should be benefiting in a sustainable way..."

 

1 Comment

  • Jamie said

    <p>l come across your article some 6 months ago and help greatly to research, plan and select a suitable volunteer program abroad. Your information help me to narrow my selection to a couple of volunteering programs in Indonesia. l decided to apply directly to a local a non-profit organization in Bali, where they were transparent and l knew where all the <a href="http://www.volunteerinbali.org/volunteer-programs-bali/affordable-bali-program-fees.html">volunteer program funds</a> would go directly into the learning center and the local community in Bali, Indonesia.</p><br> <p>l'm currently into my 6th week of a 12 week <a href="http://www.volunteerinbali.org">Volunteering in Bali</a> placement and finding it was the best decision l could have made. The local staff provided wonderful support before my arrival (by answering all my questions and visa preparation) and now while l'm here on the project.</p><br> <p>For further details, please visit: <a href="http://www.volunteerinbali.org/volunteer-programs-bali/volunteering-program-in-bali.html">Bali Volunteering</a> with Widya Sari Children's Foundation</p>

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