This is a particularly popular pastime among students who embark on a gap year. Of the 153,700 gap year students who sought to volunteer in 2022, some 59,300 (16%) travelled abroad in the search of deeply enriching experiences. 

Of course, it has never been easier to volunteer and travel abroad, thanks to governmental initiatives such as the ‘International Citizen Service’ programme (which is available to people aged between 18 and 35) and the ease with which you can compare cheap flights in 2023.

But is international volunteering really right for you? Below, I’ll explore the universal advantages of volunteering abroad, while asking how you can determine the right path for you.


What are the Advantages of Volunteering Abroad?

One of the key benefits of volunteering is that it enables you to forge new and meaningful friendships, wherever you choose to travel in the world.

However, when you volunteer in different and exotic corners of the globe, you can simultaneously embrace new cultures, languages and prevailing conversational customs. These lessons can be both fascinating and humbling in equal measure, while they build a far greater level of tolerance and understanding that can benefit your future social interactions.

Even on a fundamental level, the friendships forged while volunteering are organic and often deeper and more meaningful than usual, due to the bonds that are built while enjoying truly life-changing and shared experiences.

The unique experiences offered through volunteering are incredibly valuable, especially when you immerse yourself in small communities in more distant parts of the world. This certainly enables you to experience communities and social interactions that are far removed from the popular tourist trail, which may otherwise remain out of your reach.

Of course, there are also professional advantages of volunteering abroad. This can certainly provide crucial work experience and exposure to practical and transferable skills, which are highly sought after in the graduate job market. According to data from the US-based ‘Corporation for National and Community Service’, people who volunteer on a gap year have a 27% better chance of finding work upon entering the labour market than those who did not, with these findings revealed from a sample study of 70,000 respondents.

When working closely with local service providers and national charities, you can also access potentially lucrative and far-reaching networking opportunities. 

These are hard to come by during your graduate years, and when combined with your initiative and ability to demonstrate key practical skills, make it much easier to launch a successful career in your chosen field when the time comes.


So, is Volunteering Abroad Right for You?

While these universal advantages of international volunteering are widely accepted, they may not apply to everyone equally. 

In truth, much depends on your personal motivations and circumstances, so here are some of the key considerations before choosing whether or not this course of action is right for you.

What’s Your Motivation for Volunteering Abroad?
There are many reasons why you may want to head overseas, but simply wanting a break from your existing surroundings isn’t necessarily the best motivation for volunteering. After all, this requires a consistent work ethic, which can often be challenged by the physical and emotional demands of working in deprived communities. So, consider your motivation and needs before committing to volunteering, as this is best suited to individuals who want to gain practical work experience or make a real difference to the lives of those less fortunate than themselves.

Do You Have Good Organisational and Planning Skills?
This is another key consideration, as any successful volunteering project involves careful planning and solid organisational skills. When travelling independently, this can involve everything from sourcing cheap flights and accommodation to verifying the organisation you’ll be working with overseas, the latter of which can be particularly challenging in some instances. When comparing such organisations, be sure to check their history and track record in leading volunteer schemes, while verifying that they’re registered with the local authorities where appropriate.

Does Volunteering Provide the Experience You Need?
When volunteering during a gap year, you must ensure that this provides you with tangible and relevant work experience (if this is the primary motivation for your trip). After all, volunteering can provide variable experiences depending on where you travel to, while this may not be entirely relevant to your desired future career path. So, be sure to consider both your intended destination and future career plans, so that you can confirm volunteering abroad as the right course for you (and identify the best possible experience if this is indeed the case).


The Bottom Line

As you can see, there are a number of incredible benefits associated with volunteering, many of which are particularly relevant when travelling overseas.

However, you must also give careful thought to your own motivational triggers and personal circumstances, in order to ensure that this is the best way of spending a gap year and building towards your long-term future.

Even if you believe that international volunteering can provide genuine value and life-affirming experiences, you’ll need to carefully plan your trip and give consideration to the best international project or destination.