Are you considering volunteering abroad but still aren’t fully convinced?
You’re right to think over it carefully, and there are some key questions you should ask yourself before making a decision.
According to the UN Volunteers report, more than one billion people volunteer globally. Harvard Medical School research says that volunteering can be a life-changing experience for your spirit, mind and body.
And yet, volunteering abroad is different from volunteering in your home country, in that it requires extra time, commitment, and financial sustainability. This is why it’s important that you spend some time beforehand to think about the experience you hope to get.
For those of you who are considering volunteering but still aren’t convinced about it, we suggest a very simple self-awareness exercise that’s useful in determining your motivation before you start applying for a volunteer job.
1. Why do I want to volunteer?
We generally assume that people choose to volunteer as a selfless act of generosity, it being a gesture naturally associated with sincere altruism. However, as surprising as it may be, people often volunteer for more self-centred reasons. Volunteering is a way to reconnect with yourself, your personal values, and your motivation by allowing you to do what you’re passionate about. Volunteering is also a way to learn new skills, add a line onto your CV, or get a foot into the non-profit door for those hoping to switch their career from the for-profit sector. People also like the social aspect of volunteering; it provides opportunities for you to meet different people and make new friends.
These are all perfectly fine reasons. As long as you are truly giving back, there is no harm done if volunteering will also improve your skills and quality of life. Whatever your reason is for volunteering, just be honest with yourself and have a deep understanding for what it is that’s motivating you to volunteer.
2. What am I good at doing?
Your motivation for volunteering could be very personal to you and be completely different from other people’s motivation. No matter what your motivation is, the outcome is ultimately the same for everyone. Volunteering is where you provide a service for no financial gain in order to benefit another person, group or organisation. Any volunteering activity must have an actual value added for the community, organisation, project or cause that you’re supporting. Make a detailed assessment of your portfolio: what are the skills, capacities, knowledge and expertise that you’re willing to share with others?
3. How much time can I dedicate?
Objectively consider how much time you can dedicate to the cause. The time factor can deeply influence the impact you may have on others and define the type of volunteering experience you’re going to have—think it through before committing to your volunteering project.
4. What type of volunteer work keeps me motivated?
Quite often overlooked, understanding your intrinsic attitude and what keeps you motivated is fundamental in creating a fulfilling experience for yourself and enriching the beneficiaries. Would you naturally prefer to help others by empathising with them and offering a comforting shoulder? Or are you more of a doer, and prefer to get involved in trying to solving problems? Do you prefer to be involved in peaceful, quiet and structured activities? Or would you rather do something energising that involves reaching out to other people? Similar to an actual career, not all volunteer positions fit everyone. The more you know about yourself and your preferences, the more success you will have in finding the project and position that are right for you.
5. Can you sustain yourself financially?
Sometimes volunteers (particularly first-timers) come with the expectation that expenses—such as accommodation, meals or flight tickets—will be covered or reimbursed by the hosting organisation (i.e., the organisation offering the volunteer position) in exchange for their volunteer work. It’s certainly a very reasonable expectation, though it’s not always met. Like organising a holiday or other reasons for travelling abroad, planning a volunteer experience in Cambodia requires some thorough thinking on how to be financially sustainable during your stay. Take your time to assess the necessary expenses, and devise a strategy to cover your costs.
6. Is it the right choice for you?
Last, but not least, we recognise that applying to be an international volunteer, particularly in a developing country like Cambodia, is a big step and may not be right for everyone. Sometimes volunteers are frustrated because things happen at a different pace, people have different ways of approaching and solving problems, or things are handled based on values different than theirs. To make the most of your volunteer experience, ask yourself if you are already equipped with flexibility, patience, self-reliance, the ability to adapt, an incredible work ethic, and most importantly, a sense of humour! In Cambodia, nothing happens as planned, and thus we need someone who can roll with the punches and see the fun in experiences that are sometimes disguised as frustrating events…!
Our advice to you is to give it a try, at least once in your lifetime. As John F. Kennedy says,
“One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”