See the World…Help Others…Change your Life
How many of you out there have spent the bulk of your life going to school, getting your degree, perhaps going on to get a higher degree, and have finally landed a job in your “dream field.” You’ve got an office, you’re going to meetings, you’re making money…your career is finally taking shape. While you sit at your desk doing research, typing memos, and making phone calls, you think back on all the time you spent studying, taking exams, grinding out long hours, and all of the stress, pressure, and anxiety it took to get you seated in that office. And because you have worked so hard and don’t want to take this opportunity for granted, you continue to work long hours and push yourself, often sacrificing all the other things in your life that are important to you.
Until one day you go to work, sit down at your desk, and see a reflection in your computer screen that you no longer recognize. You can’t recall the last time you did something just for fun. Even if you did, you spent most of the time worrying about an impending deadline at work or an important meeting scheduled for the next morning. When people ask you to describe yourself, you immediately respond, “I’m a/an (insert name of your profession).” You are no longer defined by who you are, but what you do. That’s when you realize it’s time for a change. Time to rediscover who you are, what makes you happy, your passions, your goals, and your dreams.
Traveling to a different part of the country or world allows you to free yourself from your daily routine and all of its stressors, and experience new places and new cultures. It forces you to break out of your comfort zone and learn how to survive in the unknown. It forces you to find out who you really are, away from the job, the computer, and the schedules. But just hopping on a plane and setting off to another country can be daunting, especially if you are not a seasoned traveler. Questions start running through your mind: “Where should I go?” “For how long?” “How much will it cost me?” “Where will I stay?”
If you want to get away, see the world, and not break the bank while doing it, consider travel volunteering. There are many programs that allow you to work abroad for weeks, months, or even years. However, not all volunteer programs are free or even cheap. Many actually charge hundreds or thousands of dollars (depending on the length of your stay) for someone to volunteer with their organization. And that often does not include your airfare or costs of meals once you get there. While there are many volunteer opportunities that come with a big price tag, here is a list of organizations you can volunteer with that are free or very inexpensive:
Since its inception in 1960, more than 200,000 people have volunteered in 139 countries with the Peace Corps. Volunteers can work in a variety of areas, including education, business, health, and agriculture. Volunteers must be United States citizens and at least 18 years of age. The Peace Corps requires a 27-month commitment, which includes 3 months of training and 24 months of volunteering. For a list of opportunities around the world, and to learn more about the Peace Corps program in general, visit their website at www.peacecorps.gov.
The United Nations Volunteer Program, based in Bonn, Germany, serves 130 countries. According to the program’s website: “[Volunteers] work in technical cooperation with governments, with community-based initiatives, in humanitarian relief and rehabilitation and in support of human rights, electoral and peace-building processes. They are professionals who work on a peer basis.” Volunteers serve in a variety of sectors, including agriculture, health and education, human rights promotion, information and communication technology, community development, vocational training, industry and population. Assignments typically last between 6 and 12 months, and are renewable. Volunteers must be at least 25 years of age, hold a university degree or higher technical diploma, have a minimum of 2 years working experience, and have good working knowledge of one of the following languages: English, French, or Spanish. For more information on how to volunteer with the UNV program, visit their website at www.unv.org.
3. Willing Workers On Organic Farms (WWOOF)
“WWOOF is a worldwide network of organizations that link volunteers with organic farmers to help people share more sustainable ways of living. In return for volunteer help, WWOOF hosts offer food, accommodation and opportunities to learn about organic lifestyles.” (www.wwoof.org.) The WWOOF organizations publish lists of organic farms, smallholdings, and gardeners that welcome volunteer help, thereby offering a wide array of tasks and experiences for volunteers. The volunteers (called WWOOFers) choose the hosts that most interest them and contact the hosts directly to make arrangements for their stay. Volunteers typically live with the host families; however, volunteers do not pay for their stay and the hosts do not pay the volunteers for their work. The WWOOF organization does collect small fees from hosts and volunteers to help maintain and develop the WWOOF network. To read much more about this unique, interesting opportunity and see where you can travel to learn more about organic farming and sustainable living, visit www.wwoof.org.
4. Work Camps
Service Civil International is a work camp program that places teams of volunteers on 2-3 week projects around the world. SCI has hundreds of opportunities in more than 60 countries, according to their website, including working with asylum seekers in Norway, helping on an organic tea farm in Japan, working with a children’s theater group in Kosovo, or repairing fencing for a wolf sanctuary in Colorado. In addition to these shorter opportunities, volunteers with SCI can also serve in longer-term programs (3 months or more) by working on social service or environmental initiatives, including teaching English at a youth center in Poland, marking hiking trails in Nepal, working with the poor in India, or teaching organic farming in Kenya. To learn more about SCI, visit their website at www.sci-ivs.org/new.
Another similar work camp program is Volunteers For Peace, a non-profit organization offering more than 3,000 volunteer opportunities around the world. In addition to the 2-3 week service projects, VFP offers Individual Service Adventures, through which you can personalize an international service project lasting from 2 weeks to 1 year. VFP also offers Group Projects, where you can custom-build an international service experience for your educational or community group. Visit www.vfp.org to learn more about their work camp projects.
5. Teaching English Abroad
A simple Google search – “teaching English abroad” – yields several million results of programs and resources for teaching English in a foreign country. Unlike the volunteer opportunities listed above, teaching English typically costs several thousand dollars, but you also are paid once you begin working. Language Corps (www.languagecorps.com), for example, pays teachers between $500 and $1,500 per month, depending on the country, as well as the details and conditions of the specific teaching assignment.
Teaching English abroad usually requires a 1 to 2 year commitment and there are opportunities all over the world. Depending on the program, the costs of accommodations may or may not be included in the program fees.
Another program, CIEE, has teaching opportunities in Chile, China, the Dominican Republic, South Korea, Spain, Thailand, and Vietnam. In Vietnam, for example, the compensation ranges from $10-20 per classroom hour taught. The program also awards a completion bonus upon successful completion of the teaching contract to help with return airfare. However, there is a $2,800 program fee for CIEE, which covers a pre-departure school assignment, an in-country orientation program, one-way transfer from the orientation to your host school, insurance coverage, program handbook, teaching guides and tools, and visa acquisition, as well as a 130-hour professional TEFL certification course. The costs of accommodations are not included in the fees and are usually your responsibility. To learn more about CIEE, visit their website at www.ciee.org.
For a comprehensive resource where you can learn about opportunities to study, teach, volunteer, or intern abroad, visit www.GoAbroad.com.
Whether you are looking to change jobs or simply want a great excuse to see the world, meet new people, and learn about different cultures, volunteering abroad could be that once-in-a-lifetime experience that completely redefines who you are and what you want out of a career.
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