Volunteer in Social Work Abroad

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A Guide to Volunteering in Social Work Abroad

Have you ever had an altruistic calling to help those in need? Maybe it's time you look into social work volunteer opportunities abroad. Social workers around the world provide support to children and adults in need, especially those facing one or more layers of disadvantage in society. Those who volunteer in social work abroad will be able to help those who have been affected by physical abuse, mental illness, civil war, disease outbreaks and many more social issues. Social work volunteers can become part of the change that is direly needed for many communities, families, and individuals across the globe.

Why Volunteer in Social Work Abroad

There are people across the globe living amidst corruption, inadequate living conditions, war, disease, and many more terrible environmental stressors, all of whom are in need of assistance and change in their societal systems in order for them to have a better life. These changes do not happen within governments alone, but rather through a combination of new social policies, rights activism, and volunteer advocacy and assistance.

Volunteering in social service work abroad can be enriching and enlightening, allowing volunteers to take a step outside their comfort zone to realize some of the complicated issues many individuals face around the world. People are enduring social inequality all over the world; becoming a social services volunteer abroad will broaden your horizons and help you understand the type and depth of social work that truly needs to be done. 

Learning how to communicate with people from different cultures and backgrounds can truly allow you to understand intercultural issues both in your home country and abroad. By volunteering in social work abroad, you can immerse yourself into a new culture while contributing to the overall betterment of your host country’s social services. There are a range of social work volunteer opportunities available abroad, so volunteers with any kind of experience will be able to find a placement where they can make an impact on the lives of people in need.


There are an abundance of locations to choose from when looking for international social work volunteer opportunities. Start by selecting an issue that you’d like to contribute to, whether it is related to health care, poverty, education, or any other social issue. Once you’ve decided which social issue you are passionate about, you can pinpoint where in the world it would be most useful and productive to volunteer abroad.

Guatemala. Volunteering in social work Guatemala offers those with Spanish language skills the chance to help provide educational, vocational, and healthcare services to disadvantaged populations. Guatemala is a poverty stricken country with one of the lowest literacy rates in Central America. Therefore, social work volunteering in Guatemala will give you the chance to provide educational opportunities to Guatemalan children, as well as communities as a whole. An added benefit of social work volunteering in Guatemala? You’ll be able to volunteer amongst the ancient ruins of the Mayans. 

Kenya. Social work volunteer programs in Kenya often focus on supporting development initiatives related to women’s education and healthcare. With an estimated 24.7 million people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, the need for health education programs is enormous.  Education volunteer programs in Kenya may provide feminine hygiene products to women or HIV/AIDS education to teens,individuals throughout the country.

Vietnam has spectacular cuisine, welcoming people, and one of the most charming cultures in Southeast Asia. Vietnam is unfortunately also well known as a site of international conflict; most prominently because of the Vietnam War which lasted from 1955 to 1975. This twenty-year war divided the country into two political factions and Vietnam has never truly recovered. The Vietnamese people open their doors to volunteers from all over the world in hopes that volunteers can help them get back to where it they were before the war.

Social Work Volunteering Abroad

The most meaningful and valuable way to gain experience in social work abroad is to have as diverse a cultural experience as possible. What better way to broaden your expertise than real-time fieldwork giving you hands on experience providing social services? Here are the three most common types of volunteer placements in social work abroad:

Educational social work placements allow individuals to gain experience working with children who are victims of abuse. This experience will provide social workers with insight on how to work with disadvantaged youth who have been or currently are facing abuse in some form.

Health care social workers typically work directly with patients of all ages and their families who are experiencing difficulties due to serious illness or receiving appropriate medical care. Volunteers in this realm of social services may be placed in hospitals, inpatient facilities, or community health settings.

Mental health social workers work to improve treatment and access to health care for patients or clients. Those who volunteer in this type of social work abroad will gain a new kind of cultural understanding related to mental health and therapeutic techniques, some of which may be entirely foreign in some cultures. 

Length. Social work volunteer programs differ in duration, ranging from two years to two weeks, depending on the depth of the experience. For example, social work volunteer placements at a school or with children in an alternative setting tends to last a year or more, to allow volunteers to make a real impact and gain beneficial experience in youth development.

Requirements. Those who want to volunteer in social work abroad do not necessarily have to have experience in social services prior to arrival, rather just a passion for helping those in need. Most importantly, social work volunteers must have a desire to act as an advocate for disadvantaged communities. However, knowing the local language is always a plus when working in social services abroad, as a majority of the social work is accomplished through communication and with basic cultural understanding.

Benefits & Challenges

Volunteering in social work abroad will give you the chance to use your knowledge and expertise to make a contribution to some of the most vulnerable societies in the world, as social service work focuses on improving lives. Some of the social issues you may find yourself confronting include human rights violations, severe poverty, and a lack of economic opportunity.   

Social work volunteering abroad involves interacting with people from different cultures that may be very different from your own. Volunteering in social work abroad will leave you with a new perspective on how to adapt to difficult situations and deeply broaden your cross-cultural communication skills.

Similarly, volunteering in social service work abroad can be challenging, as you’ll be forced to keep an open mind and to withhold judgments or comparisons to your own culture or societal practices. Your preconceived notions may even interfere with your ability to successfully provide social services, so you’ll need to be very mindful of your approach to social work abroad. Doing as much research as you can before you take off for your adventure can reduce the culture shock you will encounter upon arrival and help you become a more successful social work volunteer abroad.

If you hope to pursue a career in social services, then volunteering in social service work abroad, in a diverse, international environment, will leave you with a host of skills to succeed in nearly any social work position. 

Any small act of kindness can change one person’s life for the better, forever. Volunteering in social work abroad will be a life changing experience for both you and those you serve.

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A Guide To
Volunteering in Social Work Abroad


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