So it has been almost a year since you returned from volunteering internationally and you’re itching to get back out there in the world. Looking at the options, how can you decide between opportunities like conservation efforts in the Galapagos and public health in Nepal? We get it; every option is more enticing than the next. Deciding where to take your next volunteer trip abroad can be a challenge in itself, but maybe you don’t have to make the decision all over again...
Maybe you’ve stayed connected to a previous volunteer site via social media, donations, or certain connections you made, or maybe something’s tugging at your heart telling you to see what they are up to now. Either way, taking a closer look at the option of returning to your volunteer project abroad should be an option you consider!
“Been there, done that” does NOT apply here. There is much more to both give and get no matter how many days/weeks/months you’ve spent there before (plus you can still find ways to explore new areas you haven’t yet seen!).
From someone who has returned to the same NGO in India three times, here are some worthwhile benefits of saying you are here to volunteer…again:
Straight to Work
There’s always a learning curve when you arrive to a new volunteer site, introductions, orientations, figuring out what the heck you are doing, etc. When you come back a second time, you get to jump right into the work without a long transition period. You already know the mission, the environment, and the main projects, so even if some things have changed, you have a good grounding to start from.
Staff won’t need to take time away from their already busy schedules to train you and may even use you as a helping hand to train the newbies! It’s pretty cool to feel like a natural in a foreign organization amongst the first-time volunteers.
By returning to the volunteer site (especially if, like many of us, you said you would!), you’ve proved your commitment and motivation to work for the cause, plus personal integrity for keeping your word. Staff will remember your work style from before and be able to easily place you in a role where your strengths will shine. Don’t be surprised if you are given greater responsibilities and/or a leadership role this time around!
In certain volunteer projects, such as in schools, orphanages, community centers, and senior centers, you may also work with some of the same beneficiaries. Imagine the delight of a former young art student or a rural woman you taught how to weave when they see you walking back into their lives to begin lessons again.
When volunteers come and go, it can be hard to build trusting relationships with vulnerable populations. Returning not only helps to build that trust, but also shows those you are working with how much they matter.
You won’t just continue building relationships with the people you work with, you will gain a deeper sense of connection to the entire community you are living in. Be it making friends with the neighbors, getting to know the local shopkeepers or café staff by name, or being able to navigate the roads without needing Google Maps, a home away from home begins to naturally develop.
The culture and lifestyle will also become second nature faster than you thought possible upon returning. You’ll not only get to see the tourist attractions you missed before, but you’ll have even more time to explore the inner workings of the city and the beauty of quiet pockets of town you didn’t know existed.
Sometimes it can be really hard walking away from a project wondering what will happen after you leave. Was this sustainable? Did I make an impact?
As a returnee volunteer you will get to see first-hand the progress made. Maybe the sanitation program you developed in one town is going well and ready to be duplicated in the next, or the rainwater collection system you helped implement could use a revamp after so much use. Maybe the marketing campaigns you worked on got enough attention that now they can use your help in updating web content and new program brochures, or the sea turtle habitat you restored is now ready for the species to repopulate.
Seeing the fruits of your labor, whether they have made a lasting impression or have failed to take hold, is a great way to learn about effective techniques, sustainable development, and the needs of a community. Not to mention it’s a great way to feel rewarded for a job well done!
When you put all the benefits of returning to your volunteer project abroad together, it comes down to the biggest benefit of all, greater and more long-term impact.
By returning to your home country and returning to your school/work/life, you will develop more skills, insights, and self-awareness that you can bring back to benefit your host country. Each time you return to volunteer, you can give even more. You will come with new perspectives and a fresh look at old problems. You will also come knowing the needs of the organization and be able to better prepare yourself to be an asset for the team. Talk about meaningful travel!
Being able to see the fruits of your labor, improve upon it (or fix up what isn’t working anymore), and continue giving back is an amazing way to have a sustainable impact. The trusted relationships formed and instant comfort in the environment only add to your ability to find success. Youth and adults alike will find it easier to open up to a volunteer they have worked with before and value the change you are trying to create (heck, even animals could remember you as an old friend!)
Of course, there are other benefits, too, such as further developing your skill set in a specific career, boosting your resume, and even receiving job opportunities abroad or at home that stem from your volunteer work. Plus, since you have photos and stories to share from your first time with the organization, you could run a successful fundraising campaign to make a financial impact for the cause you love.
Whatever your reasons are to return to your volunteer placement abroad, no matter if it’s because you fell in love with the country or fell in love with the work, your second trip won’t be anything like the first. Even if you’ve lost touch since completing your volunteer project, don’t be afraid to reach out and reconnect. You are guaranteed to learn even more, grow even more, and give even more, a win-win for all involved!