About 20% of high school seniors likely won't attend college this year due to the COVID-19 outbreak. If you're considering a break from school too, why not volunteer on a gap year? Serving communities abroad will help you get to know yourself and allow you a once-in-a-lifetime chance to explore the world before choosing a career path.
Here are a few more ways international volunteering can change your life for the better.
1. Develops Professional Skills
If you want to enhance your resume and impress your future employer, international volunteering is for you. Spending a year in a new location with people you barely know will develop your skills in communication, organization and problem-solving. Plus, you'll gain confidence and life experience, which are invaluable in university and workplace settings.
Look for apprenticeships, internships, skill-training programs and other programs that will allow you to give back while also gaining valuable life skills.
2. Promotes Independence
Developing your leadership skills is yet another benefit of volunteering abroad. Many gappers are first-time travelers who will fly solo to their volunteer destination.
Going it alone may seem daunting at first. However, you'll likely meet other like-minded individuals along the way and even make a few lifelong friends by the end of the year. Plus, you'll learn from each other as you lead short-term teams and exercise your independence on the field.
3. Fosters Cultural Appreciation
Volunteering long-term is quite different from taking a vacation. After spending a few weeks in the country, you'll meet locals, look and act less like a tourist and truly experience the culture. Community members will invite you into their homes, you'll eat traditional meals and you may even learn a new language.
This cultural immersion will foster a sense of appreciation for traditions, ethnicities and beliefs that may be different from your own.
4. Encourages Global Networking
Whether you're volunteering at an Argentinian monkey sanctuary or coaching sports in Cambodia, you're sure to meet others who share your passions. Connecting with programme leaders, locals and other volunteers will expand your network and broaden your horizons. In one short year, you'll lay the foundations for lifelong contacts all over the world.
5. Makes a Positive Impact
One of the most important benefits of a volunteer gap year is that it will allow you to make a positive impact on the world.
From promoting sustainable practices and wildlife conservation to aiding impoverished communities, there are countless ways to make a difference. Choose a gap year volunteer programme that weaves service into the very heart of its curriculum if you truly want to change the world.
Before You Go
Before embarking on your grand adventure, there are a few important details to consider:
- Visa requirements: These will be different depending on your nationality, your destination and your reason for traveling there. For example, a tourist visa to Peru is valid for up to 183 days, while a business visa is valid for 90 days. Meanwhile, you can volunteer in Thailand for up to 60 days before having to apply for an extension.
- Varied volunteer opportunities: This depends on the programme and target country. For example, it may be difficult to volunteer with a Christian organization in India or China. Likewise, you won't have the opportunity to volunteer at an elephant sanctuary if you spend your gap year in Peru or Colombia.
- Deferred admission: Does your university of choice offer deferred admission? Some universities will accept your application, then permit entry at a later date. This deferral will allow you to travel for a year before beginning your studies.
- Financial considerations: Can you afford to take a gap year? Many programmes require you to pay for your own flight, food and accommodations, while others may offer a daily stipend. Consider the price of college tuition and the gap year programme and budget accordingly.
Make the Most of Your Gap Year
Volunteering abroad is about more than exploring the world— it’s about making a difference in it. Make sure you weigh your options, decide where to volunteer and do your research before you depart. This year will transform your life.
Author - Alyssa Abel
Alyssa Abel is a college, career and lifestyle writer who specializes in student life and study abroad. Read more of her travel-related work on her blog, Syllabusy.