Many people who volunteer abroad do so on a gap year after finishing high school, rather than going straight to college or university. Taking a year out from education provides opportunities for new experiences, as well as giving students a bit of breather to let loose and return feeling refreshed and ready for the next academic challenge.
In terms of future prospects, your career path may not yet be defined; volunteering overseas can help you figure out what your future might hold, as well as highlighting your willingness to work and can-do attitude. Traveling abroad, meeting new people, experiencing a different way of life and trying your hand at meaningful projects can be an exciting introduction to the wider world, equipping you with skills for life.
Research has shown that up to 87 per cent of volunteers acquire or improve skills while volunteering and up to 82 per cent find their volunteer vacation influences their career path. Meanwhile, up to 70 per cent find that their volunteer vacation sparks an interest in a new career direction. Among employers, 87 per cent believe that volunteering can help build the career development of 16 to 25-year-olds.
Keep reading for nine ways a gap year volunteer vacation can boost your future prospects and visit our website to learn more about how you can volunteer abroad in Costa Rica, Ghana or Thailand.
Amass life experience
There are few better ways to learn about life than volunteering abroad. A decade or more in education may have restricted your experiences thus far, so jetting off to another country can be a real eye-opener to the diversity of life around the world. On a volunteer abroad break you’ll experience new cultures and traditions and witness a way of life that may be entirely different to what you’re used to back home.
If you visit a developing country when you volunteer, you’ll also have first-hand experiences of poverty and illiteracy, which can make you value what have at home so much more. Being able to help struggling communities is one of the most rewarding aspects of volunteering abroad, facilitating the necessary development of these nations while also equipping you with skills for life.
On a volunteer vacation you’ll amass life experience quickly, achieving a level of awareness that can only be gained through seeing and experiencing a new country firsthand. This sort of experience is invaluable for both your professional and personal life, contributing to your development in a way that can’t be matched. Sample foreign flavors, integrate into a new culture and create memories that will last a lifetime.
Boost your confidence
Venturing overseas for a period of time can be exciting but requires its fair share of planning and organization. Whether you’re a confident person already or not, arranging this sort of trip can give you a bit of a boost, showing your commitment to a cause and the ability to organize, plan and finance a significant event, which is no mean feat.
Being able to arrange your volunteer abroad trip is something to be proud of, highlighting your management skills. What’s more, once you’ve experienced life in a new country and settled down into a daily routine - supported by friendly, knowledgeable volunteer coordinators - you’ll grow in confidence, feeling more at ease and able to handle whatever life throws your way.
Volunteering abroad can give you an all-important self-esteem boost; on your return home, you’ll enjoy a sense of accomplishment and renewed self-assurance as a result of a successful experience. Make a difference in the developing world and feel the difference it makes in you.
Learn a language
You might have retained some of your language abilities from school or perhaps you’re a complete beginner – either way, there are volunteer vacations designed for everyone. At uVolunteer, we offer volunteer vacations to Thailand, Ghana and Costa Rica; it’s only necessary to speak English for trips to Ghana and Thailand but some Spanish language skills are required to volunteer in Costa Rica.
We provide dedicated language lessons for volunteers in Costa Rica who want to work on their Spanish before beginning placement; intensive lessons can be useful to bring your language skills up to date, equipping you with the vocabulary necessary for a successful volunteer vacation.
Learning a language when you volunteer abroad means you’ll be able to communicate with local people at your placement, build new friendships and get more value from your time overseas. You’ll also be able to learn on the job, and your language skills can open up all sorts of opportunities in terms of future employment, either at home or overseas.
Expand your skillset
Volunteering abroad gives you the ideal opportunity to establish and develop a wide range of skills, both practical and otherwise. Organizing your break will require forward thinking and management, while you may also need to be creative if you’re planning to fundraise for your trip. You’ll need to research ahead of traveling and potentially be in contact with others - especially if you’re volunteering abroad in a group, which can boost your communication skills.
Depending on the placement you choose to complete, you might build skills in areas like teaching, construction or community development; alternatively, perhaps you’ll work with children, volunteer in a hospital or help out at an animal sanctuary, all of which will give you practical skills and knowledge to use in the future.
Many volunteer projects can help you become multi-skilled; for example, working in a national park can build up your physical strength and help you learn about the environment, while work behind the scenes in the office area can build your administration skills.
Experience your chosen industry
Whether you’ve chosen the industry you’d like to work in or not, volunteering abroad can help you make up your mind, as well as providing you with ideas you may not have thought of previously. Many volunteers travel overseas to make a difference but discover that their project is something they want to pursue as a career; others decide to follow a whole new path on their return, using their knowledge and experience as a guide.
If you’re a med student looking to build up some practical experience, you could volunteer in a busy African hospital, where you’ll learn from the professionals and have the opportunity to deal with conditions not common in the Western world. Likewise, if you want to become a teacher, you could teach English to children in Latin America for a great grounding in working with youngsters.
It doesn’t matter if you’re not dead-set on a specific career path – most volunteer projects don’t require qualifications, so you’ll have a wide range of placements to choose from. You might even decide to try something completely new and find you love it!
Stand out from the crowd
If you’re planning to attend university or enter employment when you return from volunteering overseas, you might need to prove your dedication and skills. Making your application stand out from the rest can be tricky but, if you volunteer abroad, you’ll be adding interest in a way that many other applicants can’t.
Be sure to include your trip abroad prominently on a resume or application, describing the experience concisely and highlighting the main points. Think about where and how you worked and focus on the skills you learned, from teaching elementary school students Math to managing databases of endangered animals.
Including your volunteering experience on an academic or employment application gives your interviewer a discussion point, so prepare to answer questions about how your experience helped you grow and develop in a variety of ways and use the opportunity to showcase the positives you learned about yourself and how you can apply them at university or work.
Earn a qualification
When you volunteer abroad, you might do so as part of an academic course in order to gain a qualification. If you need to do a placement year or gain experience in a certain industry, volunteering overseas may fulfil this requirement. Some volunteering companies are affiliated with official qualifications; uVolunteer is certified to provide the President’s Volunteer Service Award, which recognizes US citizens who complete a specified number of hours volunteering.
There are various levels to the award, from Bronze to the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award, requiring between 100 and more than 4,000 hours’ volunteering service. Volunteers who complete a level of the award receive an official certificate and a note of congratulations from the President of the United States. It’s an honor that should take pride of place on your resume, highlighting your dedication and hard work.
Volunteering can also help you earn credits as part of an academic course you’re enrolled on - especially if you’re studying for a work-based qualification. Teacher training often requires a set number of hours completed in a school, while certifications for teaching English as a foreign language can also be completed on the job. Speak to your volunteering company directly to find out if they can tailor-make your trip to reflect your requirements.
Among the best elements of volunteering for the individual is the opportunity to make new friends and connections while overseas. Regardless of how shy or outgoing you may be, if you book a volunteer abroad break that includes shared accommodation, you’ll soon get to know other likeminded volunteers and build memories together as you work to a common goal.
Making connections can be important for your future; you may make new friends but these connections could offer up all sorts of possibilities for your professional development. People from other countries may become close friends and organize foreign exchange visits for example – another achievement that looks great on a resume and provides cultural exposure and the opportunity to develop language skills.
Don’t overlook opportunities to build connections in the communities you visit too; establishing links could prove useful if you want to return to your volunteer destination or even help you in securing a job if you decide you want to spend longer in your host country. You might also want to use your connections on your resume to provide references.
Build global awareness
Venturing abroad provides invaluable life experience but it also enables individuals to develop global awareness through witnessing life in other countries and cultures. This can be particularly useful for anyone planning to complete international work during their career but it’s equally helpful for many jobs back home.
Having an understanding of global issues and seeing how tasks are performed in the wider world is key to achieving understanding and awareness of the development of products, services and working practices. Learning how and why things are different from back home leads to cultural tolerance and aids the innovation of improvements and the creation of best practices, where necessary.
Knowing your industry on a global level can give you the edge over competing job applicants, especially if you can vocalise how practices differ around the globe and add your own educated input and ideas. The ability to witness and understand industries on an international scale is increasingly important; we live and work in a global market and this sort of experience can provide you with the skills to work anywhere in the world.
Volunteering abroad is an ethical way to help others less fortunate than yourself but it’s equally useful for your own personal and professional development. With the majority of employers impressed by volunteering experience, and almost 90 per cent of volunteers developing or improving their skills while overseas, it could be the part of your resume that helps you into your chosen career. Alternatively, volunteering abroad can equip you with skills that are transferable for study or work, such as time management, organization, leadership and practical abilities within your chosen field. Find out more about how you can customize your volunteer journey to suit your needs by downloading the uVolunteer program brochure.