Make Your Summer Meaningful: 9 Reasons to Volunteer Abroad

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With summer quickly approaching, your lack of seasonal employment might inspire panic and no concrete summer travel plans might cause your palms to perspire. But, relax. There’s something even better on the horizon, and soon all of your worries will fade away. How can we make that guarantee? Well, we just can. 

Rather than working for pennies at your local BBQ restaurant or mapping out a circular road trip, how about investing in something adventurous and meaningful? There are plenty of summer volunteer programs for college students, from working with children to volunteering with sea turtles, so make this your best summer yet. Take a look at the many summer volunteer programs on GoAbroad to get your search started (and keep taking a look because it is constantly updated!).

Girl lounging by a pool
This is Brittany, she’s going to spend her summer staring at her phone by the pool. Don’t be like Brittany.

There are tons of benefits to reap from summer volunteering: increased happiness and health, professional growth, new global connections, positive impact on the community you serve, and all the warm fuzzies that go with it. Admit it; the more you think about this, the more appealing a summer volunteer program abroad sounds, right? So, let’s keep the good times rolling, here are nine reasons why you should spend your summer volunteering abroad: 

1. Have an Adventure

With longer, warmer days comes the promise of adventure, excitement, and an endless supply of fun in the sun. Many of us dream up plans that will make for the summer of a lifetime, but we end up falling into a rut of doing the same thing day after day— namely, sleeping in and binge watching the newest season of whatever on Netflix. Summer volunteer programs (especially ones that include adventure opportunities) can save you from the monotony that your break between semesters has become. Instead of diving into that new series on Netflix, you could be helping with sea turtle conservation in Costa Rica or building a house in Thailand. No matter what you do or where you go, it sure beats your standing pizza order and a trip to the mall!

2. Learn New Skills

Taking a class to get ahead of your credits or even taking a class just for fun (you’ve always wanted to learn guitar, right?) over the summer break are great ways to take advantage of the extra time on your hands. But, summer volunteer programs can give you more than the ability to solve matrices or play a C-chord. From work-specific skills, such as learning how to dress a wound, constructing house foundations, or teaching children, to increased communication and work ethic, you’ll be hard-pressed not to gain something from your summer volunteer program. It is a great self-esteem booster, and looks great on future resumes and job applications!

Women pushing wheelbarrows in Hoi An, Vietnam
Instead, spend your summer volunteering in Vietnam.

3. Meet New People

While spending each day of your summer with the same crew can be fun, why not branch out? A summer volunteer program will give you the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. Gain a new perspective by chatting with someone from Finland, Argentina, and South Africa, all around the same dinner table! Exposure to new cultures and ways of thinking expands our understanding of the world, and can teach us more than any textbook— so don’t shy away from conversation. If you really hit it off, you could even plan to visit your new friend in her home country the following summer. Talk about #SquadGoals, right? 

4. Narrow Down Career Interests

Summer volunteering is the perfect way to test a career possibility before devoting your life to it. Rather than blindly thinking you want to be a teacher, only to realize you have a fear of sticky fingers after one week in a classroom, test the waters first. With the variety of summer volunteer abroad programs available, it will be easy to find one that fits in with your interests and career goals. Choose to volunteer in medical programs, conservation projects, childcare facilities, or whatever peaks your interest. If you love your time spent volunteering abroad, make a career out of it! If you weren’t that into it, look into other career options, or volunteer again for another cause. It’s certainly not rocket science— unless that’s what you’re into.

Make Your Summer Meaningful: 9 Reasons to Volunteer Abroad

5. Pick Up a New Language

Even during summer volunteering abroad you can pack a lot of language acquisition into a few weeks. Whether you’re starting from hola or need help perfecting the pluperfect tense, full immersion in a society where you hear, see, read, taste, and breathe a foreign language does wonders for the brain. Learn from the locals, or chat with fellow international volunteers, and you will leave with a full language repertoire under your belt. Not only does becoming a summer volunteer abroad beat a semester (or year) of sitting in a classroom, but you’ll be able to form meaningful relationships with the people you’ll spend your summer volunteering with.

6. Maintain (Some) Travel Flexibility

More so than study abroad programs or internships, summer volunteer programs abroad come with a sense of flexibility that makes including them in your summer travels a breeze. Start and end dates are not set in stone and program durations are usually determined by the program participant. This means that commitment times can be anything from a week to three months. In other words, there’s something that fits any sort of summer schedule, whether that includes extended cruises around the Caribbean or quick trips to Eastern Europe.

Keep in mind, however, the commitment you’re making. If you choose to spend your summer volunteering, that’s what you’ll be doing, primarily. You may have time to travel before and after your summer volunteer program, but if you’re going to be there BE THERE, put your all into it, and work hard— don’t be jetting off every weekend and shirking your responsibilities. 

Cameleon in Mgahinga National Park, Uganda
Maybe you want to make a few new animal friends with summer conservation programs in Africa.

7. Do Something Meaningful

Summer volunteer abroad programs can benefit you in a variety of ways, but don’t forget that the purpose of volunteering is to help others. Instead of spending your time tossing a frisbee at the beach or mastering Mario Kart, do something that influences others’ lives. Being able to look back at your summer and say, “I built a classroom” or “I made an impact on wildlife conservation” is something you’ll be proud of for the rest of your life. You could even keep the warm fuzzies rolling and become a returning summer volunteer abroad

8. Beef Up That Resume 

Just because school’s out and you’re not sludging through classes doesn’t mean that your professional development has to come to a stop. A summer spent volunteering abroad proves that you are genuinely passionate about something, which looks a lot more impressive than just college credit or temporary job in the same field. In addition to the new life skills that you’ll develop, you’ll be able to put a few more meaningful bullet points on your school or job applications. Summer volunteer programs abroad are great conversation starters for any interview as well!

Young Chilean girl smiling
Match the smiles on your students faces when you work in schools or with community centers abroad.

9. Get Healthier

Whether it’s because you’re out moving and interacting or because you’re not sitting on a couch and eating pizza day after day, summer volunteering is linked with a lovely assortment of health benefits. Investing in something meaningful increases mental wellness and decreases rates of depression. Physical fitness improves (guess there’s an advantage to hammering nails and carrying plywood for hours, day after day), and heart disease rates drop. That’s not even to mention the warm, fuzzy feelings you’ll be wrapped around in, which come with their own set of positivity.

If you think you’ve got what it takes to make a positive difference in the world (and upon yourself), toss those work applications aside and call up your flaky road trip friends to tell them that you’ve got better plans: to give your time and skill sets to a good cause. With a summer volunteer abroad program, it’ll be the season of change and growth. Just don’t forget your sunscreen. 

Find the best summer volunteer programs on GoAbroad!