Maybe you want to volunteer to experience a completely new culture. Maybe you’re looking to gain valuable career skills that will make your resume stand out from the crowd. The benefits of volunteering abroad are nearly endless, but the truth is not everyone is cut out for this.

Here are some reasons why you probably shouldn’t volunteer abroad:

1. It’s not all a big photo opp.

With the rise of travel blogging and social media stardom, more people are seeking out unique travel experiences that look good on camera – and there’ll be plenty of those as you explore your placement country. But if you’re only “doing it for the ‘gram,” then you should reconsider volunteering abroad. In fact, part of traveling responsibly is respecting the people you meet. You’re there to assist the locals, not plaster their faces all over social media.

This also applies to volunteering in wildlife conservation projects. Yes, the animals you’re working with may be adorable, but your priority should be taking care of them, not Snapchatting or taking selfies. At the end of the day, if you’re just volunteering because you think it will make you look good or interesting, you’ll be begging to go home once the real work of volunteering begins.

2. This isn’t your average vacation.

If your ideal vacation involves lounging by the pool all day, sipping cocktails and not lifting a finger, we hear you! But that definitely won’t be your experience volunteering abroad. Yes, you’ll have plenty of free time to relax, explore and enjoy the country, but don’t forget you’re there to work!

Volunteering abroad is not your typical holiday — it’s an opportunity to have a more meaningful travel and work experience, so adjust your expectations before signing up.

3. You’ll have to step outside your comfort zone.

When you travel with uVolunteer, we encourage you to learn a new language, travel the country on your own, try new foods, assist with various activities, and much more. If you’re not open-minded and hate trying new things, then you’ll be doing yourself a huge disservice and missing out on the best possible volunteer abroad experience. More importantly, you might actually end up doing more harm than good.

4. You will meet lots of new people.

Does the thought of interacting with strangers make you cringe? Well, you probably wouldn’t enjoy volunteering abroad. From the moment you arrive at the airport, our staff and network of friends will be there to greet you and help you get settled. You’ll live in a volunteer house with other like-minded volunteer travelers, who you’ll share meals with and maybe even go on trips together. Be prepared to gain a second family when you travel with uVolunteer — and don’t be surprised if you find yourself staying in touch with many of the people you met while volunteering.

5. You’ll have a hard time transitioning back into your old life.

Ever heard of reverse culture shock? Once you return home, it might take some time to get back into your old routine. You might even find that you don’t want to. Maybe you’ll be fired up to volunteer in your community more often or you’ll become more interested in community issues.

You’ll probably have a serious case of wanderlust and find yourself anxiously looking forward to your next trip (in which case, we welcome return volunteers!) And you might even be unable to enjoy a regular vacation going forward. Once you’ve spent time visiting the floating markets in Bangkok or living on a beach while protecting turtles in Costa Rica, it might be hard to pick up where you left off at home.

Image: claire rowland via Flickr

6. You’ll learn a new language.

Whether you’re volunteering in volunteering in Costa Rica, Ghana or Thailand, English will only get you so far if you want to make deep connections with the locals. Luckily, we’ll give you a basic primer on words you need to know and you can also study Spanish in Costa Rica before or doing your volunteer placement. If you’re not open to learning at least the basics of a new language (and feeling a little silly trying out your new vocabulary), then you should consider staying at home.

7. You won’t change the world.

Here’s the plain and honest truth: volunteering abroad for a couple weeks won’t change the world. It probably won’t even significantly change the lives of the people in the community where you’re volunteering.

Change is incremental and it takes place through concerted effort over time.

That’s why we place our volunteers in sustainable community projects that continue to run even after they leave. However, you can feel confident that your small contribution will go a long way in improving the community you’re volunteering in. And by participating in an exchange of ideas and perspectives, you can have a huge impact on several people, including yourself.

8. It’s not all about you.

When you volunteer abroad, you’ll need to get used to putting your ego aside and helping where you can. Perhaps you’re working at a small orphanage where all your tasks aren’t rigidly scheduled so you’ll need to figure out how to make yourself useful. Or maybe you’re asked to do a task that isn’t all that glamorous. Remember it’s not about you. If you aren’t willing to be helpful in whatever capacity you’re asked to be, then maybe you shouldn’t be volunteering.

TL;DR

Volunteering abroad, while fun, isn’t for everyone. Without the right mindset and expectations, you may find yourself disappointed at the end of your trip. Before you sign up, get ready to step out of your comfort zone, gain a new family and group of friends, and broaden your perspective on life.

Still pumped to volunteer abroad? Download our program brochure for more information on our volunteer programs.