Are you about to embark on your very first volunteering project abroad? Read my 10 tips to make the most of your time away from home.
Socialise with your fellow volunteers
If you’re travelling alone (or with people you’ve never met before), talk to the other people in your volunteering group. If you have to share accommodation, offer to share with your fellow volunteers! Having a friendship or familiarity with the people you work with will make the experience more enjoyable. You’re not just leaving a positive impact on your project, you’re also creating amazing memories and friendships that could last a lifetime.
Learn phrases in their language
Going to a foreign country can be daunting, especially if English is not the official language. Try to memorise some useful phrases in their language to make communication with people you meet- or even when shopping- much easier. It is also an amazing skill to show your friends and family when you return.
You can go on YouTube to find some short lessons on some handy phrases, or you could try a free language learning app.
Explore the culture
Do some quick research on the country’s culture and way of life. The most important aspect to look into is what’s considered polite in their culture. As well as this, find out how to dress respectfully. When I volunteered, I had to make sure most of my body was covered so I wore loose-fitted clothing to suit the climate. Some rules may also be different to your home country. For example, some countries have banned plastic bags, or do not eat a certain food. It is very important that their country and way of life is respected.
Also, consider learning the country’s history. It can be very interesting, and seeing what you’ve learned in real life can be fascinating.
Make a checklist
Make a list of everything you need to get done before you set off. Are all the admin tasks done and have you packed everything you need? Remember that in some cases you need to get a visa and/or get DBS checks. You may also need specific items of clothing or equipment. Contact the company you’re travelling with to make sure you have completed every task.
Learn to adapt
Learn to adapt to changing circumstances. You never know what could happen in conservation work or in certain weather conditions. Remember that you’re going into a completely new environment and being able to adapt is a valuable skill. The most important tip is to always be willing to step out of your comfort zone and try something new.
Be accepting of new ideas and be open-minded to what others teach you, especially if you are in a completely new environment or country. You will encounter a lot of new information and come across ideas that you’ve never heard before. It could be overwhelming at first, but all of these lessons will help you thrive in your new surroundings.
Talk to previous volunteers
If you know someone who has gone on the same trip previously (or any volunteering trip in general), talk to them about their experience! This is a great opportunity to ask for advice and gain some useful tips on living situations and the work you’ll be doing. Having life hacks from someone who has experienced it first-hand is really valuable. If you don’t know who to ask, it’s always worth finding reviews or blog posts about people’s trips. We have many blog posts on our website about people’s adventures.
Research the climate
The climate in the country you’re travelling to can be very different to what you’re used to. If it’s a hot and humid country, pack light or loose-fitted clothing and remember to pack hats. If it’s colder, pack extra layers, and so on. Having the correct clothing for the climate will help you feel more comfortable on your trip.
If you have space in your luggage, think about packing card games, books or small activities. You may not get access to the internet at all times! Games can bring everyone together on quiet evenings and help create friendships on your trip. Also, depending on what you’re doing, gadgets may get damaged or there could be power cuts, so definitely be prepared for that.
Keep track of everything you learn
Make notes of everything you are taught on the trip. This will help you later on in the program when revisiting certain tasks and information. These notes can also be very important if you want to do similar jobs in the future and you need similar skills. You can look back on these notes later in life and cherish the incredible time you had!
If you’re thinking about volunteering abroad, check out the projects we offer at WorkingAbroad!