10 Mistakes Every International Volunteer Should Avoid
Considering apply to volunteer in your home country or abroad? Or already started your application or about to start? Check out our list of essential mistakes you should avoid...
1. Not Having an Aim
Are you volunteering for the wrong reasons? For example just to show your friends on Facebook you are doing something cool? This is likely to leave you not fulfilled and possibly unhappy during or at the end of your program. You should have a real urge to do good, and research all programs before applying to see if they are really what you are looking for.
2. Choosing the Wrong Project
There are so many incredible volunteer programs available worldwide, but you need to make sure it is right for you. Do you really want to be volunteering in South America building schools helping disadvantaged communities in the heat of summer? Sometimes, especially with wildlife volunteer programs you might not get hands on contact so research all projects and ask questions before hand to avoid any dissapointment. We get a lot of enquiries about volunteering with refugees or working with elephants abroad but these placements can be very emotional - be ready for this.
3. Choosing the Wrong Destination
What are your interests travel wise? Are you looking to experience a natural beautiful destination or enjoy the hustle of bustle of a big city? There are so many different experiences from volunteering in Rio de Janeiro to teaching English in Vietnam. Some locations might seem appealing but are they right for you? Really think about this as you are going to spend time living there for the duration of your trip. Giving back and volunteering in Africa for example will be amazing, but also living conditions can be rustic especially when volunteering in Kenya and similar countries. There are some incredible volunteering programs in China like working with pandas but are you sure you are ready for the culture shock and food?
4. Joining a Short Term Project
If possible it gives you the best chance to make a difference, you should volunteer for at least 4 weeks. A lot of people choose 2 week placements and shorter but we highly recommend you make a long term commitment so you make the biggest difference. It can take time to get to know what to do, make friends and also get to know local staff.
5. Not Being Open Minded
You should go into the whole experience with an open mind, try to do everything and never turn down an opportunity!
6. Not Packing the Right Things
If you are going overseas you will need to check the climate before departing. You don't want to turn up when volunteering in South-East Asia and have a suitcase with winter clothing where there might be a tropical climate. At the same time if you have applied to volunteer in Europe you don't want to arrive with just shorts and t-shirts! In some more conservative destinations you will need to check laws, local rules and general advice - this is the case when volunteering in the Middle East.
7. Not Getting Ripped Off or Scammed
You might check some organisations or projects and think how are they so expensive?! There are lots of not very reputable organisations worldwide which either charge too much money or do not offer what they advertise. One World 365 features hundreds of reputable structured, free and low cost volunteer projects abroad with reviews. Before applying we highly recommend checking facebook pages and asking to speak to previous participants.
8. Not Learning the Local Language
If you are going to be volunteering in a foreign country the chances are they might not have English as their first language. Picking up the basics of the local language will really enhance the experience, even if it is just a few conversational words and phrases.
Usually projects employ local staff and you will also go out shopping, sightseeing etc so it will also make your time abroad easier. You could even choose a project to combine experience to book a language course abroad at the same time, popular options include:
- Thai language courses in Thailand
- Chinese language courses in China
- Spanish language courses in Spain or South America
- Portuguese language courses in Brazil
- Russian language courses in Russia
9. Thinking You Can't Make a Difference
There is quite often a lot of negativity regarding volunterousim but joining a program is a great way to make a positive impact - no matter how small you think it might be. For a start, a lot of volunteering programs require you to pay a fee as organisations generally do not have any government funding. Your fee helps to keep the programs running throughout the year
10. Not Recommending the Experience to Others
If you have a great time, recommend it to everyone you know! Let them enjoy the experience just as much as you. Even just sharing your experience and raising awareness for good causes is something positive.
Looking to get started? Search our incredible range of volunteering programs abroad.