Last spring, I spent an incredible semester studying in Madrid, Spain. While I was there I decided to volunteer at a local vocational school and I’m super glad that I did. Volunteer abroad opportunities abound, but there are some benefits of gaining volunteer experience overseas through other international programs, such as studying abroad. Below are some reasons why I’m glad that I volunteered while studying abroad and why you should, too!
No additional expenses.
Before I studied abroad, I thought about volunteering in a different country on multiple occasions. However, the price tag for many volunteer trips kept me from pursuing the opportunity further. Unfortunately, altruism like volunteering doesn’t pay for a plane ticket, a place to stay, or food to eat. On top of the steep price, my university does not offer scholarships and grants for volunteer trips, only credit bearing programs. On the bright side, choosing to volunteer when you’re already abroad totally solves this problem.
Living abroad for an extended period of time provides cultural context.
Living in a foreign country for a long period of time gives you cultural context which in return will help you better serve the community you’re in. I had a perception of what life in Madrid was like, and living near the touristy section of the city definitely reinforced that perception. However, it wasn’t until I started volunteering that I was given a glimpse of real Spanish culture. Understanding Spanish customs not only made me appreciate the culture ten times more, it also helped me better serve the students that I worked with. This newfound understanding of the culture was not something that I could have accomplished without the additional volunteer experience.
It introduces you to another world outside of “studying abroad”.
Studying abroad is mostly about taking courses abroad and connecting with other students on your program, but finding extracurricular activities within the local community helps you get more out of your experience. Finding a volunteer opportunity while studying abroad will further immerse you into the culture by giving you another avenue to practice the language as well show you the way that locals actually live. Additionally, you never know what friends you could make while volunteering!
I volunteered as an English teacher’s assistant for a class of students who were studying to be elementary school teachers. Within minutes of the first class that I helped out with, I made some friends, some of which would become my closest Spanish friends. If I hadn’t decided to volunteer while abroad, there’s a chance that I wouldn’t have had opportunity to make close Spanish friends who would then show me what authentic Spanish life is like.
It’s great for professional development.
While volunteering abroad, you may not find yourself serving in extraordinary ways, doing things that you wouldn’t have the opportunity to do at home. However, being abroad and volunteering gives you additional skills than that you may not have developed doing that type of service at home. In addition to sharpening your language skills, volunteering abroad also fosters intercultural communication skills, which are sure to impress any potential employers or graduate school.
Any time, way, or place that you choose to serve is great! Volunteering while studying abroad worked best for me for the reasons listed above, and could be a great option for you, too.