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Thought Piece

What Does Volunteering Abroad Teach You?

By Rianna
Successfully sending volunteers abroad for 10 years

Most of us will already know what we’re most comfortable with, yet there’s always room for learning more about ourselves. We already know what we want to do and what we don’t want to most of the time. For example, I knew from a young age I was interested in volunteering abroad and I followed this dream when I did my volunteering in Kenya with Agape.

You may have a bucket list you are working your way through and know that you’re willing to take the risks for a good experience. So, thinking about this, you might be wondering how you learn more about yourself. Here is how volunteering abroad helps to develop your character. 

When you are getting involved with new activities with new people from different cultures who hold different traditions to you, you learn a lot about them and yourself. Since you’re trying out different things and coming out of your comfort zone, you are exposed to things your body and mind is not used to.  

This is a good way to find out what you like and dislike, what you’re okay working with or not, etc. Volunteering abroad is a good way to test the water, almost like a pilot study. For example, if you’re interested in working with children, volunteering abroad provides you with knowledge and skills of working with children from different backgrounds. Doing this can teach you whether you do in fact like working with children or prefer to work with a different age group.  

It can also develop your character by helping you learn about yourself. Prior to my volunteering experience, I enjoyed company from others and didn’t think much about my alone time. When I volunteered in Kenya, I was surrounded by lots of people every day. I learnt that I am an introvert and generally enjoy time alone to recharge but also, make the most of the company.  

You Can Overcome Challenges

During your lifetime you will, no doubt, have overcome obstacles and challenges – small or big. Volunteering abroad itself is one of the bigger challenges. Even if you have volunteered at home, either locally or on a larger scale, it is different when you’re abroad. You may already have ideas or expectations of what will happen, but here are some challenges you will overcome that you hadn’t considered before. 

Whether you are volunteering with a friend or solo, you are still thousands of miles away from home. This can be daunting, but definitely a challenge you can overcome. For example, you learn to depend on yourself and trust yourself. Essentially, you are improving your decision-making and problem-solving skills. It’s not as easy when you haven’t got your usual support network to come to help you instantly. At the same time, you learn to live with other people on a deeper level. You will be working with them and spending time together outside of work. You may find that you like some people and dislike others, but you still have to live with them! 

Other small challenges include being able to get into a routine or managing living away from home – homesickness and plucking up the courage to make friends are always high on the list of things people have to overcome. Waking up early and sticking to a 9-5 day, ensuring that you get to your work or placement on time and meal prepping, etc. Learning to cope with negative feelings skillfully and positively as well as making small talk in social situations are just some of the small challenges that you might have missed when thinking about the bigger challenges, such as flying on your own or packing

The World is a Good Place

Often, we hear more about bad news than good news in the media; this can influence our perception of the world. Whether these are local stories or on a national/worldwide level, we start to form opinions and views about the world and people around us from what we see and hear. As humans, we naturally focus more on negatives. A good example of this is when your mistakes and wrongdoings have been flagged but your strengths and positive actions have seemed to go unnoticed. However, when we venture out of our comfort zones and take that risk of exploring the world, we realise the good in the world. 

For many of us, one of the many reasons we decide to volunteer abroad is so that we can help make the world a better place. Just that fact shows you and others that there is positivity left despite all the horrible news you might hear. In addition to that, you will experience many new situations, meet new people and learn a variety of different positive things.  

This is probably one of the most common reasons individuals sign up to volunteer. People want to go out there and explore; when we’re stuck in one place for a long time, it is easy to forget the good in life and what is out there. During my volunteering experience abroad, I learnt that humans have strength. We have the strength to overcome obstacles and challenges, no matter what life throws at us, we can always make a positive out of it. I learnt this from myself, from other volunteers and the locals I worked alongside in Kenya. It was refreshing.

Other Thoughts

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