Explore a piece of ancient human civilization by volunteering abroad in Oaxaca, Mexico. Oaxaca is characterized by its rugged terrain and preserved indigenous culture; scientific evidence supports the claim that humans have inhabited this area since roughly 11,000 BCE! Oaxaca’s history has been preserved by the indigenous people and iconic architecture. Volunteering in Oaxaca will provide you with a glimpse into one of the oldest civilizations in the world, leaving you with an appreciation for the roots of humanity and modern civilization.
Volunteering in Oaxaca
There are a wide range of volunteer programs in Oaxaca available to individuals from all over the world. Since Mexico is a developing country, Oaxaca is in need of many social services and forms of community support; however, there are a number of volunteer placements in Oaxaca outside of the latter two fields too.
Education. The most prominent type of volunteer placement in Oaxaca is English teaching. With 16 indigenous languages still spoken in Oaxaca, the state has maintained its indigenous Mexican heritage and culture through significant isolation. However, because of this, modern education has been somewhat lost, which includes English language education. Considering the number of indigenous languages still spoken in Oaxaca, English has become less of a priority in primary schools, despite the growing demand for English language skills to remain competitive in the global market. To teach English in Oaxaca you must have intermediate to advanced fluency in the Spanish language in order to effectively carry out lessons and manage your classroom and students. It’s also highly recommended that foreign English teachers have a deep understanding of English grammar and rhetoric. Some teaching volunteer opportunities in Oaxaca will also require either a college degree and/or a TEFL certificate, so Oaxaca can be a great option for teachers seeking professional teaching experience abroad.
Most other forms of volunteering in Oaxaca revolve around social work and community development. Volunteer programs in Oaxaca in the latter areas encompass a variety of industries, such as healthcare, environmental sustainability, and youth development. While these volunteer programs in Oaxaca may last up to a year, volunteers can typically stay for as short as one or two weeks (unlike teaching placements that sometimes require a full year commitment). Some knowledge of Spanish is highly recommended for anyone who wants to volunteer in Oaxaca, but is less of a concern in social service placements than in English teaching.
Life in Oaxaca
Your day to day life as a volunteer abroad in Oaxaca will vary based on your specific placement. Generally speaking, volunteers will spend the majority of their day interacting with organization staff members and locals to accomplish mutually decided goals and placement tasks. In the evenings, you might have the chance to try mastering a mole sauce, take a stroll around the Zócalo, or estudiar your Español!
We should note that “Oaxaca” the state and “Oaxaca” the city are two distinct places. The proper name of the city is “Oaxaca de Juárez,” but it is more commonly referred to simply by its first name. Since Oaxaca is the fifth largest state in Mexico, geographically, volunteers will have plenty of area to explore in their free time.
Oaxaca city is the center for all of the culture in the state. Many famous architectural sites are located in and around the city, such as the Monte Alban and Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption. The nearby Pacific coast of Oaxaca state is a scenic environment attractive to volunteers with a weekend to spare.
The Oaxacan people are no stranger to international visitors, though it is more rare for the tourists to be committed to helping their communities and not just stopping by to take a few nice photos of their colonial city. Mexicans are notorious for their generosity, hospitality, and vivaciousness, so get ready for plenty of hugs, dance parties, and lasting friendships during your volunteer program in Oaxaca.
Costs & Affordability
Oaxaca is a relatively affordable city to visit and live in when compared to major U.S. and European cities. You can buy lunch for less than $5 even in the business district, and a meal for two can cost less than $20 at mid to high end restaurant. The cost of living in Oaxaca is very affordable for most international volunteers. Monthly rent for a high end city apartment will typically cost less than $500. Most appliances, food items, and other daily necessities will most likely cost less than those found in your home country too. The only items that remain around the same price as they would abroad are imported items, like name brand clothing items.
Accommodations & Visas
Homestays are the most common form of accommodation in Oaxaca. As a culture embedded with family values, Mexicans are very welcoming to outside visitors, and hence serve as great hosts for volunteers. An overall open door policy helps volunteers to feel welcome and part of the culture, and family during their volunteer program in Oaxaca. Homestays also provide volunteers with the most authentic experience of Mexico possible, as well as a great opportunity to sharpen Spanish skills. In addition to homestays, volunteers may also have the option of staying in hotels, resorts, or dormitories for the duration of their volunteer program in Oaxaca.
Travelers from a number of countries are required to obtain a visa for any unpaid visit to Mexico. For these individuals, visas can be acquired at any Mexican consulate, but visits must not exceed 180 days. Residents of the U.S., Canada, the UK, Northern Ireland, and Japan do not need to acquire a tourist visa to volunteer in Oaxaca. In most cases, those who want to volunteer in Oaxaca for longer than 180 days must acquire a work visa prior to departure from their home country, however.
Benefits & Challenges
Cultural Exchange. As a state that is rather secluded from the rest of Mexico, much of Oaxaca lacks many modern amenities. By volunteering in Oaxaca, you will have the chance to introduce modern elements from your own culture into the local people’s lives and also do without some of the clutter from your life back at home. By introducing valuable knowledge related to food, health, and the environment as well as modern technology, you can greatly improve the lives of locals and larger communities. Just be sure you are culturally sensitive at all times as a volunteer in Oaxaca.
Tradition & Cultural Preservation. Truly a place like no other, Oaxaca maintains a delicate balance between the modern and ancient worlds. As a result, the people of Oaxaca have preserved a simple sense of what makes them happy, while also pushing toward progress. This mentality may help you to appreciate the roots of your own culture as you develop your own future aspirations.