I was 21 the first time I volunteered overseas. Fresh out of University I travelled to South Africa to undertake a 5 weeks sports coaching programme in Port Elizabeth. It’s safe to say that I had the time of my life, and that those 5 weeks were a game changer. Whereas before I was about holidaying once a year with the lads in some grotty, booze fueled med resort (don’t get me wrong, it was fun for the most part, if not slightly shallow), post South Africa my travels abroad were booked with purpose, to volunteer, to seek out unusual locations or attractions. I wanted to travel in order to gain life experiences and learn, both about those places I visited, and myself. Not just to get a terrible t-shirt sun tan and drink too much.
It didn’t take me long to realise my new travelling ambitions after my first volunteering experience in South Africa. Less than a year later I had worked, saved up a wad of cash, and was back on a plane heading away from the UK. First stop was Sri Lanka, and another volunteer placement, then onto India, and another volunteer placement. As you can probably see, a bit of a theme started to develop. During my early years as a traveller, I very much liked to volunteer. I think I am much richer for my volunteering experiences, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way … in fact I can prove I’m not.
So that was a very brief overview into how I came to become a volunteer, but why did I choose to? And why should you choose to?
Well first off there is the fact that you will be providing a very helpful service of some kind, lets not forget that, that you are volunteering your time and skills to help other people, its not all about you. Having said that though, there are also some widely recognised benefits of volunteering for those of us that choose take part in these projects. Try some of these on for size …
1. An safe introduction to the world of travel
– travel can be pretty daunting, especially that first big trip. One reason you may wish to volunteer is so that you get to travel, and see a new part of the world whilst also have a solid base and support network. In effect you’ll have a ‘home’ in the form of a volunteer house, or you may even stay with locals, and if you run into difficulty in any way, you won’t be on your own and dealing with any problems on your tod, the company you volunteer with will be there to help and guide you, to act as a bit of a safety net if you will. Volunteering can offer a sense of much needed reassurance and security for first time travellers. This is exactly why I volunteered at the very beginning of my gap year. Three months spent volunteering in Sri Lanka and India gave me the necessary platform from which I felt comfortable to go out and travel Australia, New Zealand and Fiji of my own accord.
2. Practice a future profession/learn new skills
– so you may plan a career in child care, animal care, media or even sport. Volunteer could be your first taste of those professions, volunteering could pick up some key skills and on your way to a successful career. Equally any skills you pick up might not just be limited to any certain job, skills developed whilst volunteering such as communication and decision making abilities are life skills, and transferable to almost any profession.
3. It looks great on your CV
– very much linked to the above. If you’re trying to impressive potential employers, or even univrsity’s, a spell of volunteering on your CV shows that you are willing to develop your skill set of your own accord. It also shows a level of independence, and that you are someone who can work and learn in different environments, which sometimes might be challenging. Even now, 10 years after I first volunteered, employers still comment on my volunteering spells in South Africa, India and Sri Lanka.
4. Meet locals and experience ‘slow’ travel
– ‘slow travel’ is a big buzz term around the travel world right now. Where as it used to be about seeing as much as you can and ticking off the bucket list item, now its all about experiencing a way of life similar to that of the locals within the region you are visiting. Volunteering within a local community will in most cases afford you the opportunity of slow travel. Its more than likely you will meet and work with locals, that you will become friends, and that they will teach you and show you things within their homeland that other travellers who are just passing through would easily miss. Staying in one place for an extended amount of time and coming into contact and befriending local people over the weeks of your placement affords you the slow travel experience many other travellers are now craving.
5. Personal growth
– Fresh out of school or uni, feeling a bit sheltered, a bit lost, nervous about what lies ahead and wondering if there is life beyond Weatherpoons pubs and football on the weekends? Volunteering, as well as building confidence, can offer a point of focus for young people. As a result, they may as said, become more confident as they learn new skills, and therefore start to believe in themselves and their abilities. They may come out of their shell entirely and become the person they are meant to be. Cheesy sounding, but a distinct possibility.
Volunteering Stat Attack
Its time to put the above into numbers I guess, and back up my praise of volunteering with a few stats. The below statsitics are taken from the Real Gap‘s Student Travel Survey brilliantly entitled ‘It’s More Than Just a Holiday – The Benefits of Student Travel‘. They’re not wrong, and here’s a few reasons why …
74% of students who were thinking of travelling believed it would benefit them in job applications
93% of lecturers believe that having adventure or volunteer travel experience helps a graduates CV standout and improves their chances of being shortlisted for interview.
83% of employers agree that having adventure or volunteer travel experience helps a graduates CV standout and improves their chances of being shortlisted for interview.
85% of employees stated they would encourage students to gain increased confidence, independence and decision making skills through travel
80% of students stated they benefited from increased confidence from travelling.
How’s that for a stat attack? The results of the study not only showed that employers and teachers valued volunteering, but also that the students who took part in the study, having spent some time volunteering, admitted to feeling more independent and confident as an individual having had experiences of volunteering overseas. Some candidates also commented on a greater insight into life, culture and people. On the whole, the survey painted a very positive picture of volunteering.
… And that’s why I think you should volunteer, because its so highly thought of by so many people. Not just the travellers like me, but also by those who them come into contract with us in the future, and offer us jobs (hopefully).
By volunteering, you’re not just doing something amazing for other people in another part of the world, you’re doing something amazing for yourself too.