6 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Volunteering
Volunteering is a non-discriminatory activity. From small children to retirees, whatever race, creed, or nationality, ANYONE can lend their time and skills to others. While any amount of volunteering is beneficial, it behooves you to choose a project that fits with your interests and goals. The happier you are with your project the more fulfilling it will be and the harder you will work to accomplish project goals. There are a few questions you should ask yourself before volunteering to help choose the project that suits you the best.
1. What is my passion? What are my goals?
There is a volunteer opportunity out there for almost every field of interest or study. You will need to identify what is motivating you to volunteer, what interests you the most, and what your future goals are. Choosing a project based on career goals will show employers you are dedicated to learning even if you are not getting paid, and that is impressive. If you are interested in economics, look for programs that will send you to work with small co-ops or micro-financing projects. For every passion there is a project, you just have to look for it. Stay focused, there are numerous projects out there, and while teaching children or saving the rainforest may sound adventurous, it will benefit you more to pick a project that is in line with your future career or study plans.
2. What skills and experience do I need, but lack?
Knowing what skills and experience you would like to acquire is great starting point in your search for a volunteer project. While choosing a project that exercises skills and knowledge you already have may be successful, you will benefit more from a project that is going to teach you something new. Where do you want to be in five years? What job would you like to have? Look for projects that are going to give you the skills and experience you will need to reach your goals.
3. How will volunteering benefit me?
Although your main motivation for volunteering should be to help others in need, it is not bad idea to think about how it will affect your future. Identify if you could possibly meet people or employers in your field of interest or if you can gain academic credit from the experience. Identify goals and what you want to get out of this experience. Whether it is to identify what you would like to major in or to meet influential people in your job field, knowing what you want will help you achieve it.
4. How flexible, patient, and committed am I?
What would you be willing to do to land your dream job? Would you live in a mud hut? Use out- door plumbing? How willing are you to leave behind the creature comforts you are used to to gain the experience you will need to pursue your career? You need to be honest with yourself and identify just how far you’re willing to go. This will help you choose the type of volunteer experience you are looking for. Just because you don’t want to spend two years living in the jungle does not mean you are any less dedicated. It is important to know your limits and it will make your time more enjoyable if you are comfortable. You have to be patient. I can tell you from experience, things very rarely go according to plan especially in a foreign country. If you are volunteering solely for your personal benefits, I encourage you to rethink it. Volunteering anywhere can be trying, but volunteering abroad can be especially mentally exhausting. Your dedication to helping others and the feeling you can and will make a small difference will get through the rough patches. If you do not have the driving desire to make change, I worry you will give up and go home when the going gets tough.
5. How much time am I willing to devote to volunteering?
Long-term volunteer services are not for everyone. It is important to know how comfortable you are traveling, living away from home and especially away from everyday comforts. If you have never spent more than 2 weeks away from your friends or family, I do not encourage you to take on a two year volunteer commitment. Rather, there are several volunteer programs that offer projects ranging from one week to a few months. Short-term projects are a great way to see how well you will adjust abroad as well as to gain a better understanding of the process and what you would like to focus on. For those who are experienced travelers or who are up to the challenge of living abroad for a few years, there are several volunteer programs that offer long-term commitments. Be honest with yourself.
6. What will it cost me?
Volunteer positions are generally unpaid, although some do offer a stipend or per diem. Make sure you know all the fees and costs associated with your project. How much is airfare, transportation to and from the project site, and the daily cost of food? What will your volunteer agency cover, if anything? What are the costs associated with the program fees? Knowledge is power and will help you choose the right program for you and your budget.