Western Europe may not seem like your typical region for volunteering abroad. Highly industrialized and quite wealthy by world standards, most countries in Western Europe would strike individuals as more of a holiday destination than as a country in need. Yet this viewpoint ignores the fact that even in wealthy nations there are millions left behind by poverty, urbanization, and a lack of proper education. Those who volunteer in Western Europe can help underserved populations catch up, while enjoying life in one of the most fascinating and culturally rich regions of the world.
Western Europe encompasses all of the countries west of Germany including Italy, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Ireland, the UK, and more. All in all there are around 30 countries, that remain separate from the former Soviet Union, which define Western from Eastern Europe. Though a relatively small region geographically, each country holds tightly to its own national and cultural identity, meaning that volunteers have a large diversity of experiences to choose from in Europe.
Where you decide to volunteer in Western Europe comes down to your personal interests primarily – cultural, linguistic, professional, or what have you. There are many similar volunteer opportunities throughout Europe, but each nation also specializes in select fields. For example, if you want to volunteer on a vineyard or olive farm, volunteer in Italy or France. If you want to volunteer for an NGO or international organization, than volunteering in Switzerland or the Netherlands might be right for you. If you want to volunteer in healthcare or social work, try a big city, such as London or Barcelona.
The possibilities are extremely broad, as there are literally thousands of opportunities to volunteer in Western Europe, spread out across the region. Research thoroughly what locations best fit with your interests and aspirations as a volunteer abroad, and apply to the program that feels right for you.
Projects & Placements
There are many different types of volunteer opportunities in Western Europe. For starters, individuals can commit to any type of social work within a rural or urban setting – volunteering at a community center, working at an orphanage, engaging in service and/or infrastructural development projects. All of these are examples of potential volunteer placements in Western Europe in which volunteers, both local and international, continuously devote themselves to year-round.
There are also many international volunteer programs in Europe focused on environmental issues and conservation. Western Europe is an advanced economic region which has many laws in place to protect the environment, but volunteers are always needed to aid with clean ups, spreading awareness, forestation efforts, and other such projects. There are also some volunteer programs in Western Europe devoted to eco-tourism, the chance to travel throughout multiple parts of the continent while engaging in both environmental preservation efforts and outdoor adventure activities.
These are only a few of the many potential areas for volunteering in Western Europe, but these offer a good glimpse into the type of volunteer placements one can expect to find in the region.
Costs & Affordability
Western Europe is one of the most expensive regions in the world, so you may want to start saving and fundraising early on if you plan on volunteering abroad in Europe. Although the costs of living tend to be high, it is still very much possible to lead a thrifty life if you are careful with your spending habits. Making your own meals while shopping locally is a good place to start.
Many volunteer programs in Western Europe will cover room and board in upfront fees, so you will most likely not have to worry about these costs while volunteering. Look around to find the right volunteer opportunity for you, especially one that fits your budget.
Accommodation & Visas
Your accommodations will vary depending on where you decide to volunteer in Western Europe and what type of program you sign up for. Multi-country volunteer programs in Europe allow volunteers to stay in a variety of housing situations. However, programs that are grounded in one country or city typically offer volunteers the option to either stay in a homestay or live in an apartment or flat with other volunteers. Housing is a matter of personal preference in most cases, so thoroughly consider both sides before deciding what type of accommodation you want to have.
Volunteers from outside the European Union will usually only need a visa if they plan on volunteering in Europe for more than three months. This being said, countries within Western Europe vary on their visa policies for foreign travelers, so you will want to consult with your program provider about whether or not you will need to attain a visa.
Benefits & Challenges
Volunteering abroad in Western Europe is a noble pursuit and will allow you to travel in one of the most historically influential and culturally rich regions of the world while giving back to local communities in the process. Volunteer work in Europe can certainly be challenging at times, but you will find that the personal rewards and satisfaction derived from positively contributing to communities in need will far outweigh any monetary value.
Volunteering in Western Europe can be the first step towards something great for you - so get inspired and get going!