Combating the Recession with International Volunteerism

International Volunteers by SFTHQ, on Flickr

We’ve all heard the phrase “if money grew on trees,” but these days it seems that jobs and steady employment are the things we wish for most. For those between the ages of 18 and 30, also known as Millennials, this couldn’t be truer. U.S. unemployment rates hit an all time high of 18.4% in April 2010, the highest since 1948. Combine that with the 4.8 million undergraduates who received a bachelor’s degree between 2008 and 2010 and you can see where the desire for more jobs stems from.

But what options do new and upcoming grads have when times are tough and the future more uncertain than ever? When you’re competing for jobs with 2.1 million older college grads—who are also unemployed—it’s natural to feel anxious and wonder how you’ll get by.

But this isn’t a horror story, meant to scare you away from the future. Rather, new and aspiring grads should look in another direction, towards options they may have previously overlooked. One such direction encompasses becoming an international volunteer.

Before you start thinking that participating in a volunteer program is a form of escapism from the “real world,” consider this: not only will you gain valuable career experience, but it can be a stepping stone to networking with other professionals and eventually landing a job. It also doesn’t hurt that many programs will allow you to defer your federal loan payments, giving you time to gain experience and enhance your skills.

You aren’t the only grad or soon to be grad struggling with an unstable job market and employers will tire of hearing that story. Instead, why not better your chances by enhancing your resume with a childcare volunteer program in Asia or by participating in a conservation project in Nepal? At the very least, these demonstrations of your work ethic and combating unemployment in a creative way will set you apart from the crowd.

Like it or not, money doesn’t grow on trees. Neither do jobs. It’s up to you to make your future bloom and it starts by thinking outside the box. Have you ever wanted to work with wildlife in Kenya? What about assisting with sustainable development in Peru? There are so many options out there and volunteering will give you an opportunity to improve your marketable skills and become a more active global citizen. Here are a few other reasons to consider a volunteer program and how it will give you an edge in the job market.

  •   A Cost Effective Method of Meaningful Travel – Traveling abroad can make it difficult sometimes to find affordable options. When you’re on your own, the cost of things like accommodation in hostels or hotels can add up quickly. As a volunteer, many programs will cover the cost of meals and accommodation. Not only will you be saving money on traveling expenses, but you’ll be part of an experience that translates to job skills.
  • Brush Up on New Language Skills – Like most forms of educational travel, volunteering abroad gives you the chance to work on a new language as you become accustomed to the culture and country. The total immersion aspect of volunteering will act as a challenge in grasping the native language while enhancing your own grammar and vocabulary usage. Once you start filling out job applications and writing cover letters, you’ll be thankful (and so will employers) for your attention to detail.
  • Volunteering BEFORE Graduation –  Having these achievements on your resume before graduation and before you start job hunting will make you even more of a commodity. You’ll become more knowledgeable of countries like Africa, South America, Japan or wherever you choose to volunteer, and you can even earn college credit for the time and effort you put in.
  • Offset Your Loan Payments – It’s been mentioned once, but it bears repeating. After all, it doesn’t make any sense to be struggling to pay your student loans when you’re unemployed. Private loans are typically harder to defer, but if you’re paying back federal loans, these can be deferred because of unemployment. Settling for a menial job won’t make it any easier, either, as you’ll have to start paying them back. When you’re already strapped for cash and trying to make payments, this can create a constant headache of worry. On the the bright side, participating in something like a health and wellness program in India will allow you to defer the payments AND gain valuable job skills–which will help lead to a career where you can make loan payments with peace of mind.

What advantages do you see to becoming an international volunteer?

Start your own adventure as a volunteer by checking out some of these programs:

  1. Interested in women’s issues? Check out International Student Volunteers (ISV)
  2. Explore Kaya Responsible Travel for environmental conservation programs
  3. Help develop communities with a program though Cross-Cultural Solutions, CCS

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