How to Turn a Volunteer Program Into a Full Time Career
Volunteering abroad is a life-changing experience. Volunteers often return home with a new sense of perspective — a different outlook on life — but occasionally the impact can be even more profound than that. Time spent abroad can lead to the discovery that this place, wherever you chose to volunteer, is the place you want to call home.
Why go back and work in Britain when your heart now belongs to another nation? Moving abroad is a complex process, but it’s not impossible to start a life in your new favourite country. In this post, we look at the steps you can take during and after your volunteering project to set yourself up for a move abroad.
1. Talk to an Expat
There is no better way to understand how a move abroad will affect you than to talk to somebody who has already been through the process.
Ask for complete honesty about everything; from how happy they are with the move to any pitfalls or hurdles they had to get through before they settled in. It’s a good idea to think about this for a couple of days, write some notes and tick off questions as you ask them to make sure you get as comprehensive an understanding as possible.
If you really want to go that extra mile, ask multiple expats. When out volunteering abroad, you may be able to talk face-to-face with expats. If you don’t know anyone in the area, try searching for places like British-themed pubs. Found sprawled across the world, these are often owned by British expats bringing a slice of home life to a new country.
Still can’t find anyone? Ask on forums like Expat forum and British Expats.
2. Understand the Immigration Rules
If you’ve spoken to an expat and still think moving is the way forward, it’s time to start the more difficult part of the process: research.
Your objective is simply to find out if you meet the necessary requirements for a permanent visa. Although it sounds easy, researching immigration laws is incredibly important. After all, if you don’t know the laws, how can you follow them?
Government websites often exist precisely for these circumstances. Read over the information carefully, more than once. Make sure you don’t miss anything. Immigration law is an unfortunately complex system, but if you know how it works, you know how to work with it. Some countries like Australia have strict immigration laws, but not all nations are so tough on immigration.
Now is also a good time to acquaint yourself with the laws of your chosen relocation destination. Find out what sort of behaviour could earn you a one-way flight back to the UK, or even a jail cell.
3. Get Orientated With the Local Area
Spend time getting acquainted with the area you intend to move to — not as a visiting volunteer, but as a resident.
Walk the streets as though you live there. Avoid tourist destinations, taxis and expensive restaurants. Instead, do as the locals do. Visit the markets, small businesses, malls and grocery shops. Take public transport if possible, go to parks and spend time soaking in the local scene.
Talk to people and discover what the social scene is like outside of your volunteer group. By spending time roleplaying as a local, you can really get to understand the culture and customs that bind an area together.
4. Learn the Language
It might seem obvious, but learning a language abroad is essential for moving abroad. While on a volunteer trip or gap year, you might be skirting by just fine with a limited knowledge of the language and a bit of communication with English-speaking locals. For a short visit, this won’t really cause you more of an issue than the occasional mix up or awkward encounter. However, as a permanent resident, it can have more serious implications. Imagine you were taken ill and unable to communicate with local doctors?
5. Search for Jobs Opportunities and Network
Volunteer projects often allow plenty of personal time on weekends and evenings for exploring. When contemplating a move abroad, this is the perfect time to invest in finding work.
Depending on the immigration laws, you may or may not be able to start applying for jobs immediately. But, even if you can’t, it won’t hurt to look. Search for jobs through whatever means you have available. Local boards, job agencies and the web are all strong resources for this
But don’t stop there.
Having links to the country is incredibly helpful, not only for finding work after a move but also for immigration purposes. Try opening lines of communication with employers to discuss potential roles; you can do this either directly or through links you already have in the country. Friends, family, co-volunteers, group coordinators; your volunteer program probably has plenty of local links, so don’t forget to take advantage of it while you have the chance.
Say an employer is looking for a candidate. Contact the company and explain the situation; as an overseas national you may have skills that locals don’t, making you a desirable asset. This may mean they are willing to wait for you to get visa clearance or would be interested in having you contact them once the move has been successful.
Setting up as many lines of communication as possible and building your network increases your employability further down the road.
6. Take Time to Cool Off
After returning from your volunteer position, take some time to consider if moving abroad really is the right choice for you.
Your experience abroad might have been life-altering, incredible and the best time of your life, but are you prepared to leave your life at home behind? A decision like this shouldn’t be made with too much haste. Having said that...
7. Just Do It
There will probably be a million reasons that argue against you moving away. It could be that you’ll have a more comfortable life at home, that your family want you to stay, that your job prospects are better back in the UK or maybe you’re understandably nervous.
Moving abroad is an exhilarating experience and opportunities to do it come along very rarely. If you’ve got the passion, the belief you can make something of it, and even some contacts and potential work waiting for you, then sometimes you just have to bite the bullet.
Be inspiring. Live the life you dream of.
When moving abroad, don’t try and manage by yourself. Contact a specialised international moving company to help you manage this complicated, yet exciting chapter in your life.
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