Most of us are aware that traveling creates new perspectives and opportunities, but did you know that volunteering abroad actually opens the door to a whole new world -- to a world of give and take, of mutually beneficial and lasting relationships, and of purpose and connection! If this sounds like the kind of world you'd love to live in, then read on because I've been doing this for a while now, and I have a few fabulous convincing reasons for you to jump on board!
Yep, you heard me... You've got talent! Now it's time to share it with the world! You may be thinking that you have nothing to offer since let's face it, you've been waiting tables night and day for a year and a half to pay for this spectacular adventure to a land far and away. But don't underestimate yourself, you're great with people, with systems, with speed and efficiency... heck, you can make the grumpiest of grumpy people feel satisfied at the end of the day (never mind what you mumbled under your breath). And hey, if you've been in management of any kind back home, your leadership skills will carry you and be of great service abroad!
Just for fun, I started my own personal travel blog and with learning the ins and outs of the blogging world, it has landed me two blogging volunteer opportunities in two different countries! Believe it or not, my schooling finally paid off as I've even had the opportunity to find a use for my dusty public relations degree. I was super excited to learn additional skills to take home with me as well.
You give some and take some -- It's the best thing about traveling and volunteering.
Like I said, I absolutely LOVE learning! Skills that I can take with me into my future are of course, the most rewarding. Sometimes I don't even realize the extent of how much I've learned! I do know this though: I became, and am still becoming more knowledgeable about the blogging world, social media, website building, product management and much more.
To spend time learning new skills is never a waste and along with hands on experience, it's a great way to build your credentials for future volunteering or new job opportunities. Not only are you building your own future, you are building a future for communities around the world!
Have you always worked with adults?
After volunteering in an orphanage, I found that my heart beat with a passion for working with children and creating a better life for the youth. Regardless of what you learn about yourself and your passions, your experience abroad opens your eyes to a new world.
When I volunteered in Peru at an after-school children's program, the positive changes I saw in the little ones were directly in front of my eyes everyday. It's something that will stay close to me forever. Their smiles were addictive!!
When I was younger, I always thought I wanted to live in a city or work for a large company. However, after volunteering in a farm, I realized how much I love being in nature and getting my hands dirty. It complements my peaceful disposition and my views on life much more than spending hours in the car and punching in the clock with no true purpose. It blew my door of perspective wide open! Volunteering in a farm offered me knowledge of permaculture, organic gardening, composting and other sustainable farming techniques.
I decided that to understand where my food comes from and living a sustainable lifestyle are important to me. Due to my varied volunteer travel experiences, I’ve reconsidered how I choose to live my life. Yay!
Ah, this is one of my favorite aspects of trotting around the globe and immersing myself in other cultures. Traveling not only teaches you many things about yourself but the world around you and those that live in it. Adding in a volunteer experience heightens this understanding. For instance, if you thought you preferred to work in a group environment you may find that working solo allows you to work more efficiently. While volunteering at a community center for the sick and poor in Myanmar, I realized that helping sickly elders and putting a smile on their face is what gives me a sense of purpose and contentment.
Volunteering opens doors to cultural differences as it allows you to spend time with locals -- asking questions, hearing stories and learning things you could never learn on the backpacker's trail. You will most likely eat and live like the locals as well, giving you a true experience of everyday life.
My time in Peru was spent living with a local family of four. They opened my eyes to an amazing new culture I thought I knew more about. They brought me to family birthday parties, showed me how to celebrate the lives of deceased loved ones, cooked mouth-watering Peruvian food for me and even taught me how to make it! Living with locals gave me much more time to create deeper connections and relationships with the indigenous people.
While traveling, and especially while volunteering, you're likely to be surrounded by like-minded people from all over the world. It’s a great opportunity to share travel stories, tips and advice. To learn about the culture of where you're volunteering is priceless, and to learn about cultures from many different countries is an added bonus.
I personally have created lifelong friendships with other members of my volunteer team. Although we are far apart, there is something very unique in the connection we created in special places and conversations away from home. You don't get to eat pig foot soup, experience a live fish pedicure or find yourself with a flat moped tire in the middle of nowhere in a foreign country at night with just anyone! Now that’s a beautiful way to open a new door to friendship, isn't it?!
More challenges are likely to arise than not while you're volunteering but that just means more growth! It’s a perfect opportunity to learn about yourself. I received my yoga certification at the start of my trip in hopes of sharing my love and knowledge for the practice. While I was volunteering in Thailand, a couple of other volunteers asked me to teach a class. I was scared because I had a huge fear of being in front of a group but I said yes. Because the opportunity had been put right in front of me. Although I did not teach a class in the end because of other reasons, I did prepare and practice a class. And the fact that I said yes was a good start, right?
I will continue to say yes to teaching opportunities, and other opportunities that align with my passions and goals. Because just by challenging myself to say yes, I realized it wouldn’t be so bad after all. I felt empowered and confident -- attributes I strive to maintain. Facing fears, stepping out of your comfort zone and taking on new challenges offer strength and growth; two important qualities you can bring along, wherever life may take you.
Volunteering allows you to leave a positive footprint and impression in the country you are exploring. It breaks down doors between what may seem like two different worlds. You are then not only a traveler but a part of the community.
Getting involved in a fair trade company for instance, is a great way to take part in not only a sustainable economy, but a thrivable economy. Helping to improve the lives of locals by creating a livable income for them and their families, maintaining cultural traditions and remaining environmentally friendly are just to name a few.
Before I had the amazing opportunity to volunteer with Global Groove Life, I really didn’t know what fair trade meant. I was aware it had a positive impact in the world but being a part of it allowed me to truly understand how important it is. It changed my entire mindset in terms of when, where and how we make our purchases and its positive (or negative) effects on communities. Sharing this experience and knowledge with others is a powerful way to make the world a better place.
Sure, seeing temples and waterfalls is wonderful, but stepping off the backpacker trail is a breath of fresh air and offers new perspectives. Personally, I need a break from taking pictures, hoards of tourists (yes, I know I’m one as well and probably just as bothersome), and being surrounded by anything less than authentic. I do my best to live each day with gratitude and appreciation however, I see it as a sign that I need to slow it down when I’m not super thrilled to see the biggest Pagoda in Myanmar because I’ve already seen hundreds of them around Asia. I promise, I'm really not a snob! Taking some time to volunteer, learn a new way of life and change up my routine, recharges my appreciation for traveling, and the incredible things I get to see on my adventures. When traveling long-term, settling in one place for awhile can be exactly what I need to gather my thoughts, reflect on my experiences and get ready to hit the road again.
These feet get itchy quickly, so here's a quick list of cool sites to check out for your next volunteer opportunity:
So, in what ways do you benefit from volunteering? What have you learned along the way?
About the Author
Amber Johnson is a yoga enthusiast and passionate traveler. She loves cultural connection, a good laugh and exploring her curiosities.
Follow her bucket list adventures at This Tiny Backpack.
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