There are many ways of doing volunteer work. Volunteering can be anything from playing board games in your local retirement home to building schools in another continent. There is a huge variety of life changing volunteer possibilities in different countries. Also, you can always seek for possibilities back home. Even though you feel eager to make a huge difference, it is possible to begin with the small things in your own environment.
Where to begin?
1. Add volunteer work into your everyday life
Volunteer work might come naturally when you think about the options with an open mind. If there is a festival or a hobby you enjoy a lot, there are usually different ways to participate in that action by volunteering. For example, many culture events seek for volunteer workers in order to make everything happen. By helping them, you will gain interesting inside information about your favorite event. Or are you an animal lover? Go to your local animal shelter and ask what sort of help is needed.
It is quite a cultural matter how much volunteer work is included into people´s everyday life. Nowadays it is commonplace to separate volunteering from other self-related tasks as studying, working and other hobbies. To some people these aspects of life might blend together more. Often universities have their own volunteer programmes that are easy to participate in alongside the studies.
Read more about volunteering among university studies.
2. Evaluate your strengths and interests
Think about your strengths, not only the academic ones but the strengths you have in your personality. In what type of volunteer work will you be at your best element? Do you want to work closely with different people, or maybe contribute to matters more privately? To some extend it is okay to go volunteering in hopes of learning new things. It is still important to remain realistic about your skills and competences and embrace them.
Consider your own values and interests, where would you like to invest your free time and energy? Find a cause that you feel strongly for. Use time to investigate and research about the target organizations.
3. Consider your commitment
Plan carefully, what sort of commitment you are able to make towards the people or organization you are volunteering for. Plan out your schedule combining your professional life, family life, other hobbies and the volunteer work. Try not to overcommit, because you need to stay in your spirit to be able to help others!
4. Think about your goals
Consider your situation in life and your future prospects. Will it be better to volunteer in your own country or is it essential for you to go further to help with different sort of matters. It might be a good thing to begin the volunteering in your own city so that you will gain experience in that field. In that way you are able to learn about your strengths beforehand. After that, is will get easier to go further towards bigger challenges and your effort will be valued even more.
Would you like to gain some specific type of work experience through volunteering? For example if your profession will be related to children, volunteering would be a great opportunity to gain experience working in a school or children’s home.
5. Be flexible and innovative
If your visa lasts six months and your exchange only five, how about volunteering for two weeks and travelling for two, instead of going back home? This might be a great way to interact with the locals in a professional organisation, even if you cannot properly work with your study visa.
Try to be patient and grateful about the work tasks you are given in your volunteer position. In the beginning the tasks might be very easy and simple but you should not take it personally. More hands-on work will come after you gain more experience. Many of the matters that require a lot of volunteer work, for instance refugee camps and children’s homes, have tasks that trained personnel does best.
Last but not least, be respectful towards instructions, but by all means try things out! If there is a need for volunteers, there is certainly need for experimenting and room for new ideas. Do not constantly wait for guidance, except when instructed otherwise – as long as you promote the organization’s values and do not put yourself at risk.
Benefits of volunteering — goes beyond the obvious
By volunteering you will be able to feel that you are participating in actions that are important and that you are a part of making a difference. Volunteering might lead you to think about the world in a different way and it might have an affect on your future prospects. Here are some things that you will gain from adding volunteer work into your life:
- Possibility to make a difference
- Meeting new people
- Learning new things and skills
- Gaining confidence
- Making new connections and networks
- Learning new things about yourself
Six months in Bogotá – new language, new family
Read about Finnish student’s volunteering experiences in Bogotá, Columbia.
“I worked as a volunteer in Bogotá, the capital of Columbia, for six months. I worked in a support centre for undepriviledged children and young people, and my tasks were varied indeed. The tasks were changing and evolving throughout the time period in line with my experience, and most of all as my language skills were getting better and better.
In addition to my other tasks, I helped in the preparation and service of lunch meals, workshops and helping kids with their homework. I was also assisting in teaching English classes in the support centre. In addition to this, I took the children out to number of other places nearby to play basketball. I further helped the psychologist and the social worker with the office tasks, and I assisted with walking the children back home.
Volunteering is a great way to spend gap year
The decision to go on a volunteering trip was probably the result of several factors: the desire to get acquainted with a second culture, to learn the language, to travel and explore, and to spend a gap year after high school in a constructive way.
The best part was getting to know the host family, and with them, to learn about the local culture. Also the children, teenagers and colleagues at my workplace stayed on my mind in a special way. On top of that, Columbia as a country impacted me in a way I will never forget.
Struggling with a new culture and the lack of own space
At the beginning, the most difficult part was the language, which I did not know how to use at at all. I absorbed the language in about three months and then the biggest challenge lay perhaps in the general cultural differences: the families were very close-knit, and I did not experience myself as adult in this sense. Sometimes, asking for my own quiet time was a tough call, and the security situation in the country compelled me to learn various rules, for instance outside, in public transportation.
I warmly recommend volunteer work for the ones that find it interesting and important, as a foundation for positive experiences among others. Things tend to work themselves out, and the sending volunteering organisation is always there to support you whenever you encounter problems. I would perhaps also like to point out that a sense of initiative makes up an absolutely essential part in carving out your own niche at the organisation where you volunteer. The culture shock can also even feel more powerful when returning home than the shock experienced in the destination country.”
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