Part of the fun of studying abroad is losing yourself in another culture–you meet new people, learn new things, and extend your perspective of the world.
So why not show your gratitude and appreciation by giving back to your new community and make the most of your time spent there? It can only take a little effort to make a big difference. Plus, you can do a lot of volunteer work by following some surprisingly easy strategies:
1. Donate Time on the Weekends
With classes and schoolwork on weekdays, it can be difficult to find time to volunteer. But more often than not, your weekends are free. Many students take advantage of this opportunity for traveling, shopping and partying. Bu you could also try contributing those hours to something truly worthwhile instead.
Plan self-indulging trips for your last weekend or two when you have to say goodbye, and leave the rest for community service. Set a volunteer goal for yourself, such as a number of hours per day or a total number of hours, and stick with it. Don’t make it seem like a chore though. Write down something or someone who inspired you each day you volunteered and try doing a variety of different services to keep things fresh and interesting.
2. Ask Around
Remember all those new people and professors you’ve met, the ones who actually live abroad? You can ask them about local opportunities. Back at home, you might point out a local soup kitchen, homeless shelter, or, depending on the time of year, a Toys for Tots fundraiser. Just like you know about community services in your area, someone you’ve met abroad will know of opportunities for volunteer work there.
Your school might also have clubs or programs created specifically for volunteering. Ask professors or office administrators about them, or search their website. For example, Dublin City University (DCU) has several pages devoted to volunteering both locally and through the school.
3. Study in a City
You’ll find plenty of opportunities to volunteer in densely populated areas. Plan to study abroad in a city if you want to volunteer within short distances. If you prefer a quieter location, plan to travel to neighboring cities or villages to volunteer.
Search through volunteer sites to help you find what you’re looking for. Some filter their volunteer programs by location and type of service, so you can perform a more specific search. You’re more likely to find a variety of opportunities in cities, and with everything close by, it’ll make traveling much easier.
4. Pick a Study Abroad Program in an Area with Interesting Volunteer Opportunities
Everyone has a personal preference when it comes to what type of service they want to do. Some like working with animals, some like working with children, and some prefer to build homes or perform other feats of manual labor. Choose to study in a place that needs volunteer workers for the kinds of tasks you enjoy doing and/or have skills in!
For example, if you’re good with children, you might want to study in Mexico somewhere close to an orphanage. If you’d be interested in helping people overcome addictions, you could study somewhere like India, where you could guide people through the rehab process, including counseling, detox, and activities.
The possibilities are endless, so do some research and find out which countries are looking for which types of volunteers.
5. Teach Abroad
Spreading education absolutely counts as community service, and teachers can learn a lot from their students. Though you may not want explicitly to be a teacher, it wouldn’t hurt to share what you know. It’s certainly a great test of patience, kindness and organization–all of which are qualities that will help you in the real world. Besides, education is key to improving the lives of many, from a individual level, to a whole society. Be a part of a movement that could shape our whole world.
You also don’t always have to teach English as a second language. You can teach the subject you’re currently studying, whether it’s science, math, or physical education. Programs look for students to act as tutors for any range of ages as well as subjects, though honestly you’re most likely to tutor at an elementary level.
6. Help With Cultural Events
Each country has its own nationally recognized events and celebrations. Locals might be more than happy to accept volunteers, especially foreigners who are looking for a chance to embrace different cultures while giving manpower.
Again, ask your study abroad school or locals when and where an event will take place and if they need help producing it. Approach these events with a smile and an open-minded attitude. Even attending them is a form of volunteering, especially when there’s a fee that supports the community.
Step Out of Your Comfort Zone!
Community service doesn’t have to be done in your home country. Appreciation for all things shows in volunteering everywhere you go, and it’s one more step in making the world a better place.
Kayla Matthews is currently a blogger and freelance designer, which allows her to work anywhere with an internet connection. She briefly studied Graphic Design in Japan while attending college and continues to have a deep appreciation for Japanese culture. You can read more posts by Kayla at her personal productivity blog, Productivity Theory.