Volunteering in Nepal? Things you should consider before volunteering abroad

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Volunteering abroad can be a rewarding and life-changing experience. You will meet new people, try new foods, learn a new culture, and maybe even pick up a foreign language. Although an exciting and noble thing to do, volunteering abroad should be carefully considered. Everything one experiences in a foreign country will be different and sometimes overwhelming. Those considering volunteer opportunities should go into their endeavors well prepared.

One consideration, and to me the most important, is the length of time you are willing to commit to your volunteer project. I always cringe when people who have never left the United States tell me they have made a two year commitment to volunteer overseas. If you lack experience in foreign travel, consider doing one to three week projects to get your feet wet. This way, you will gain experience in traveling, adjusting to a different lifestyle, learn about a new culture, pick up some foreign vocab, and be back home safe and comfy in no time. You will also be able to measure your level of homesickness. Let’s face it; even after two years in the Peace Corps, I still get sick of fried bananas, cold showers, and housecat-sized cockroaches. At some point, we all want to go home. But if you cry yourself to sleep every night because you miss reality TV. and cafe lattes, long term volunteer stints are probably not for you. Stick to short-term teaching projects, as most programs will have at least one teaching project in an urban setting. This way, you will at least have an opportunity to call home and maybe use the internet. And if you’re lucky, find a coffee shop.

If you are considering volunteering, I strongly encourage you to do your homework on the country and region you are considering. Although beautiful beaches and interesting wildlife can peek your desire to visit a country, you should research the country’s political stability, international relations, attitudes towards foreigners, and cultural practices, to name a few. Do not just go by what you learn on the Travel Channel, as they could make even some garbage dumps sound appealing. Talk to people, visit websites, read the news, read blogs of tourists and volunteers who have been there. Ask friends and relatives if they know anyone who has traveled to where you want to go. Contact people who have volunteered through the agencies you are considering to get the real inside scoop. The insight you gain will help you to further consider where you would like to volunteer, what projects you would like to work on, and even what length of time you would like to spend abroad.

In addition to where and for how long, future volunteers need to carefully consider what projects they would like to work on. The vision of saving endangered birds in a beautiful tropical forest with lush vegetation and a cascading waterfall may contrast greatly to the reality of humidity, manual labor, and lots of bugs. Again, talk to volunteers who have done the projects you are thinking about, as what you envision may not be reality. There are various volunteer opportunities out there, and surely a project that fits you. Take the time to outline your interests, skills and qualifications, strengths and weaknesses, and the living conditions you are willing to adapt to. Doing this will make it easier to choose or rule out projects. If you like working with children, but want the comfort of indoor plumbing, do not settle for anything less. Being happy and comfortable will help you adapt quickly to your surroundings, bond quickly with the people you are helping, and make your entire experience all the more rewarding.

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