Just this past January, Learning Service ran a cool little video contest focusing on responsible volunteerism abroad. I took the challenge, so every week for six weeks, I watched an entertaining short clip. After the well-put-together clip, you’re given a simple question based on the video and you just have to click the right answer to enter your name. Every week, a new person had the opportunity to win, and there were also overall prizes for those who answered all 6 questions correctly.
Videos gave tips on what to expect your first time abroad, which organizations to trust, how to make the most of your experience, and other helpful advice (that I should have had the first time I volunteered).
Winners received KEEN shoes, Eagle Creek travel packs and a grand prize trip in Cambodia. Check out the site and play next year: learningservice.info/videocontest/.
Here is their first in the series:
*I’m not affiliated with Learning Service, just a fan of their videos.
Other important lessons:
Just because you’re volunteering in a different country doesn’t mean you can walk into the office in fisherman pants, a tank top and flip flops. Why do so many people do this?! Just like back in your home country (America for me), dress to impress on the first day, then take a cue from your co-workers.
If you’re going to be a responsible volunteer, go to the office according to your agreed upon schedule, don’t bring along unexpected friends, and assist (managing your co-workers is not something you should do). I had one young volunteer barking orders at my Thai co-workers and critiquing tactics at one advocacy event, and she had just joined the project 20min. prior. I’m sure the event we had been planning for over a month would have been a disaster without her direction. White Man’s Burden, you are not invited. READ THIS so you know: The White-Savior Industrial Complex
Oftentimes, nothing will go as planned and Asian time will dictate your present life. Don’t freak out. One volunteer nurse applied for a remote health post position in my program, but maybe ignored the “remote” part of the description. She jumped ship a week in citing the absence of certain Western luxuries and conversation. Try to be flexible and put yourself out there like never before. It’s not so bad if you have a minor breakdown (I did!) – you grow so much from it.
Your co-workers will not cater to you. If you ask them for help, please make sure you truly cannot do it yourself. They do have jobs of their own.
The extent to which you can make a difference in your short time abroad will most likely fall between -50% to 5% of how much self-reflection you will do. I’m an optimist, really.
If an organization seems shady (more than just a cultural difference), it probably is and you are probably not going to change it, no matter how self-righteous you may be. Quit, and if applies, report abuses to authorities (harm against peoples/employees, etc.).
Even two years into my position, it is difficult to create close relationships with co-workers. Language and culture has a lot to do with that, but my advice is to never stop trying. Even though I can’t always connect with them on certain topics, there will always be random moments of funny and crazy – that’s the best!