Mention that you’re going to spend your summer at a beach in Sicily, and people are going to consider you a beach bum with a taste for spaghetti and fancy wine. Add that you’re going to teach children English or conduct marine research on octopuses, and you become a respected hero. So, add a sprinkle of altruism to your summer vacation and volunteer abroad. Not only will you feel better about yourself, pick up a few new skills, impress future employers and colleges, and potentially learn a new language, but you will also make the world a better place (while still indulging in gelato or slurping piña coladas on the beach).
Why Volunteer Abroad in Summer
Summer volunteer programs leave participants with more than just a nice tan and a memory card of high-resolution photos. By partaking in a meaningful activity when others are lounging on couches and front porches, sipping lemonade, you’ll be on the way to personal betterment and resume building.
Volunteering abroad is great for learning flexibility, working hard, perfecting old skills, developing new ones, and learning humility. By spending a few weeks of your summer helping others, you’ll see the benefits reflected in your health and mindset. You’ll grow as a person, you’ll see the world, you’ll become more understanding, and you’ll realize that your own problems are probably not as big as you thought they were. By putting global issues into perspective, you’ll realize that, before all, we’re all human, and that goodness is still very much alive.
Personal benefits aside, the professional advantages are numerous as well. Not only do summer volunteer programs demonstrate that you pursue something for other than monetary gain, but it shows that you are a global citizen with great communication skills and a genuine interest in a field. Use this to your advantage, whether you are expanding your resume in a particular field or wanting to dip your toes into an entirely new topic. Not to mention that, in a world intertwined by people and personal connections, you can make business contacts while lending a helping hand.
There are people to help, schools to build, and animals to save all over the world. How does one even begin to pick a location for summer volunteering abroad? It’s recommended to examine which type of environment most floats your boat and decide on what kinds of project placements you’d like to lend a hand in.
Southeast Asia. Soak up the sun on white beaches, book a couple of massages, and live the high life in this part of the world (when not busy saving lives, of course). Befriend (komodo) dragons in Indonesia or gawk at the world’s largest religious monument in Cambodia. Sing along with the happy locals that invented karaoke in The Philippines, or chill with Buddha and crocodiles in the “Land of the Free,” Thailand. Most of these countries focus on community service, animal conservation, and English-teaching volunteer placements and offer plenty of relaxation options when off the clock.
South America. Keep in mind that seasons are going to be flipped here, so pack a jacket in addition to the bikini. Then, layer up and tackle a hike through Patagonia in Chile or drive through the salt flats in Bolivia. Brush up on your tango in Argentina (the bottles of cheap and delicious wine will help) or learn basic cumbia steps in Colombia (here, opt for the coffee to keep you going all night long). South American summer volunteer programs are vast, with many dedicated to environmental work and education. Feel small in big places and tickle your taste buds with South America’s expansive nature, flavorful cuisine, and sense of community.
Eastern Europe. There’s more to Europe than touristic monuments, tapas, and beer festivals. Eastern Europe is often overshadowed by its Western counterpart, which is when it comes to offering many summer volunteer placements in cheaper, more authentic, countries. Taste all of the borsch varieties in Ukraine, tip-toe around Dracula’s Transylvanian kingdom in Romania, and hit up the beaches in the budding Baltic countries: Lithuania and Estonia. Hospitality is top-notch and national cuisines are hearty as you get involved with construction projects and school positions.
Summer Volunteer Programs Abroad
There’s almost as many summer volunteer programs abroad as there are countries and people in the world. Ideally, you should focus on your interests and skills, but there’s also nothing wrong with trying something new. Below are some of the most common fields for summer volunteering:
Disaster Relief. From natural disasters that strike to refugee crises, there’s an entire population of people forced out of their homes. This field is commonly understaffed, but always in high demand. If you want to give immediate aid or are pursuing social work, disaster relief is high in rewards and commitment.
Medicine. Nurses, doctors, dentists, and the health-conscious are great candidates for summer volunteering in the medical field. Some placements are at hospitals, while other occur in field clinics. There’s also high need for volunteers to help with physically or mentally disabled children, and preventative health care is a rising field.
Animal Welfare. If you would like to improve the animal kingdom a bit, try a hand in animal conservation projects. Popular summer volunteer placements include monitoring the nesting of sea turtles, marine preservation, and wildlife reserves. Be a cool cat while befriending a few feisty felines during your summer abroad.
Orphans. Who doesn’t love chubby babies? If you are one of the rare few, this field isn’t for you. However, for those that enjoy playtime, sticky hands, and the reward of a child’s eternal love, working in an orphanage or day care is a noble (and heartbreaking and fun) way to spend your summer.
While language barriers shouldn’t keep you from pursuing any sort of summer volunteer work, it is always recommended and encouraged to at least pick up the basics of the local language. The necessity of this varied across the board, but it’s definitely easier to communicate with children and comfort refugees when there is a common tongue.
Tips & Advice for Summer Volunteering
While the advantages of summer volunteering abroad are many, there’s a few things to consider:
Weather. Remember that seasons are the opposite in different parts of the hemisphere; when it’s summer in Europe, it’s winter in Australia. Also, keep in mind that some temperatures can get quite extreme during the summer. For example, camel work in the Moroccan dessert might be more enjoyable in another season…
Tourists. Summer is when the entire world is traveling, so keep in mind that transportation prices are higher and places more crowded. For more authentic experiences with more room to move around, opt for smaller, less popular locations.
Time Commitment. Volunteer programs tend to be very flexible with their start and end dates, especially when enrolling directly with the program. Obviously, shorter time commitments cost less, but you might not make the same degree of difference in the world (or upon yourself). Balance financial accounts with impact value!
Summer Vacation. While the main point of going abroad to volunteer is to…well, volunteer, remember to take time for yourself as well. Especially if working in an emotionally-draining or mentally-intense field, take a couple of transition days to relax and recover. Or, just add a fun excursion to the beginning or end of your summer volunteer trip to balance fun with work!
Benefits & Challenges
Volunteering is versatile and the world is large, but many altruistic placements take you out of the comfort of your home and throw you headfirst into a healthy plunge of culture shock. Since most summer volunteer programs aren’t located in the Westernized world (which all kind of merges into a comfortable, unified mass), there’s bound to be cultural quirks, strange practices, and new lifestyles to adapt to. Remember that, as a volunteer, it’s not your job to “save” anyone or “improve” communities with Western thinking. Remain humble, adapt, and learn to co-exist.
Since many summer volunteer programs, especially those focusing on nursing, social work, and disaster relief, are located in third-world countries ravished by war, corruption, and natural disasters, daily lifestyle is drastically different than the comforts of home. Come with a strong pair of hands, but an even stronger heart, as the psychological effects of meaningful volunteer experiences can be quite traumatic. This is good though; it opens our eyes to the reality of the world and inspires a greater sense of involvement.
Enjoy the luxury of a long break from school (or work, if you’re a teacher!), and make your summer vacation more meaningful than just weekend pool parties and a summer job at the closest supermarket. No matter the age, duration, or interest, summer volunteer opportunities abound and can turn anyone into a hero for a couple of days, weeks, or months. Make a positive thumb print on the world while working on your tan!