You’re one of those helpers Mr. Rogers always told us to look out for. But, with so many volunteer opportunities around the world popping up every day, it can be hard to choose between options like community health outreach in Cambodia or hurricane relief in Haiti. As you peruse your choices, you may think that volunteering abroad is all about you giving your time, but you’ll quickly learn that volunteers receive more than they give. Adding an international element to volunteering will equip you with new cultural competency and language skills to boot.
Whether you’re rethinking your career path or you’re a first-timer researching every program under the sun, we’ve hand-picked a few reputable volunteer abroad programs based on your interests, so you don’t have to.
Here’s the breakdown of the best volunteer abroad programs if you…
Dig the Classroom → Volunteer to Teach English Abroad
Don’t mind the rollercoaster ride that is teaching? Why not do it in a new country? No matter where you teach abroad, you’ll learn to navigate work life in a different cultural context and you’ll become super flexible handling situations like power outages in the middle of class. You’ll help plan and teach lessons, and seeing a new face in the classroom will give your students an energy boost (and you’ll spark their curiosity about your country).
Top Volunteer Teach Abroad Organizations
Look into i-t-i TEFL programs, with fully accredited courses endorsed by language schools worldwide, with some extensive links to teaching jobs in countries like South Korea and Spain. Most extensive courses even come with a TEFL job guarantee! You can also search the free jobs board, which has more than 500 TEFL jobs across the globe you can apply for, as well as links with over 300 schools and institutions.
There’s also International Volunteer HQ, which will hook you up with dozens of volunteer teaching opportunities. With over 30 destinations internationally, including Costa Rica, Italy, Fiji, Indonesia, and the Philippines, the possibilities for spreading the TEFL love are endless. Just make sure you know where the coffee machine is or bring a mug with you--teaching English takes energy!
Love Animals → Wildlife Conservation Volunteer Opportunities
If you prefer to Animal Planet, then look into wildlife conservation volunteer opportunities abroad. While habitat loss and change is the top cause of wildlife declines, you don’t have to volunteer in habitat preservation to help out. Volunteers can also work in wildlife sanctuaries or rehabilitation centers, conduct research, promote animal rights, or help educate communities. Watch out for red flags– public-handling sessions, and animal performances– as you search for an ethical wildlife program (Hint: Ask yourself these questions before volunteering with animals abroad).
Top Wildlife Conservation Volunteer Abroad Organization
Some of the best volunteer abroad programs for budding conservationists are offered by Go Eco, named the top volunteer organization of 2015 on GoAbroad.com, encourages sustainable, ecological and volunteer projects. If you’re passionate about wildlife, conservation, and global communities, then you’ll dig their options, from Sea Turtle Conservation in the Maldives to engaging in projects at a Wildlife Sanctuary in South Africa.
You’re Dying to Unleash Your Artsy Side → Art Volunteer Opportunities
Is Pinterest not giving you enough artistic inspiration? As an arts-based volunteer abroad, you’ll have no problem finding inspiration in the new sights, sounds, and smells you’ll immerse yourself in. Pick up that paintbrush or those dancing shoes and connect with locals in meaningful ways. Whether you want to practice your shading technique or paint a school mural, you can’t go wrong by volunteering in art programs abroad.
Top Arts Volunteer Abroad Organizations
One of the best volunteer abroad programs for college students that involves fine arts is provided by Volunteer for the Visayans, an organization based in The Philippines, and involves teaching performing arts to disadvantaged children. You might’ve seen YouTube videos of Filipino children break dancing or prison inmates dancing to Michael Jackson's Thriller, so it’s no secret that dancing is a hit in the Philippines. There are, however, few chances for disadvantaged children to take dance classes, but you can help change that.
In Brazil, samba on over to Frontier’s art and design community project. Immerse yourself in the intense obsession with the music, dance, and theatre in Rio de Janeiro. Thousands of underprivileged children call Rio’s favelas home, and with their presence comes the chance for you to share your creative juices with these kids. You don’t need specific skills or training to provide an escape from the poverty and unemployment, but your artistic abilities and flexibility will be an asset to the communities you serve.
Are a Budding Social Worker → Refugee Relief Volunteer Programs
According to the UN, 33,973 people a DAY are forced to flee from their homes because of conflict or persecution. You cannot save everyone, but volunteering in refugee relief will give you the chance to help at least one person. From Turkey to Pakistan, countries that host refugees need volunteers like you to lend a helping hand. It’s an incredibly humbling lesson on resiliency to help those who’ve lost their homes and families, and who must start from scratch to learn new languages and build a new life.
Top Social Work Volunteer Abroad Organization
One of the most reputable volunteer abroad programs in refugee relief is offered by Armenian Volunteer Corps. There certainly won’t be a shortage of do-gooding with this volunteer organization! They have over 500 partner organizations throughout Armenia and they’ll set you up with a range of volunteering stints year round. Armenia may be small, but it has ten climate zones and a variety of enchanting landscapes, from the Goris Rock formations to the Noravank Gorge. After a day of exploring, take time to enjoy coffee, especially in the capital city, Yerevan, which is famous for its many cafés and strong coffee culture.
Are Studying for the MCAT → Medical Volunteer Abroad Programs
Billions of people don’t have proper medical care or preventative health education. Whether your passion lies in tropical disease prevention or mental health, there will be a need for you to fill abroad. Fulfilling a need may be as simple as encouraging people to cover their water storage bins to prevent malaria-born mosquitos from breeding, or as complex as giving a week-long HIV prevention workshop to sex workers. You’ll return home with a greater understanding of how cultural and financial barriers to healthcare can impact communities (or you’ll be more critical of your own healthcare system!)
Top Medical Volunteer Abroad Organizations
Some of the best volunteer abroad programs for college students and med students alike are offered by organizations like Volunteering Journeys, which leads a program focused on medical work for pre-med and medical students. This program will grant you the hands-on experience you crave and give you the chance to work on medical placements in India, Nepal or Sri Lanka. They even offer medical electives abroad to pre-med and medical students from a range of medical disciplines. Put your skills to use, learn more, and immerse yourself in a new culture at the same time. Medical placements will give you the structure and supervised medical work experience you’re looking for to make you great doctor, dentist, nurse, midwife, physiotherapist, or occupational therapist!
If you’re dreaming of improving health conditions in Africa, look no further than African Impact, which runs programs throughout the continent. Since its founding in 2004, it has hosted over 12,000 volunteers and placed interns in 12 countries across Africa. They’re focused on managing responsible projects run in cooperation with local communities and conservation efforts. Why not volunteer in Zambia teaching different age groups about cancer awareness and nutrition? Or, venture to Zululand and work on HIV prevention?
With so many options, the hardest part of volunteering abroad will probably be choosing the best volunteer abroad programs for you. Before signing up for anything, read volunteer abroad program reviews and reach out to past participants to hear what they have to say and help you find the best placement for you and the community you wish to serve.
Don’t forget to have fun! Volunteering abroad is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. Not only will you gain experience in a field that speaks to you, but you’ll also use your skills to help others in a brand new community. After volunteering abroad, you’ll be inspired to continue your work back home (or you might discover you’re happier working abroad for good!).