Volunteering is more than just helping others. It’s a getaway from work responsibilities and it’s time when you can do what you really love. It helps you find yourself in the crazy, fast-paced world and gives you time to think about what means a lot to you. Voluntary work abroad also offers an experience of foreign cultures and gives an opportunity to become fully independent, far away from everyone you know.
Put all excuses aside – applying for voluntary work abroad is simple nowadays. There are lots of programmes to choose from. Let me introduce some of them.
The European Solidarity Corps (ESC) offers young people the opportunity to volunteer in Europe and beyond its borders. It’s mostly work in schools and non-governmental organisations. Young people aged between 18 and 30 years can take part in non-formal education in projects that mostly help the society and the environment. Voluntary tasks are quite diverse. They include everything, from helping children to picking up garbage on beaches. Volunteering can last from one to twelve months. As a volunteer you get guaranteed free accommodation, meals, a language course and transportation to and from the place of work, plus you also get pocket money. The only cost you’ll have to worry about is getting to the ESC project location and then back again. And that’s not always the case. The principles of the Solidarity Corps state that each participant has their own ideas, beliefs and expectations, and the job of the host organisation is to respect that and make sure the participant feels safe and useful.
And what you gain from these projects is priceless. You gain work experience like nowhere else. One of the principles of ESC projects is that volunteers don’t do things that fall within the responsibilities of the employees, which means that, as a volunteer, you’ll be doing things you probably won’t be doing ever again. Along with all the work experience, you also get to discover yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, and figure out what kind of relations you want to build with others. You get to make friends from all over the world and you can chat with them all night. You can learn the local language and get to improve your English, to boot. Of course, there’s time for travelling as well as discovering the numerous foreign cultures. When the project is over, you receive an official Youthpass certificate that lists all the competences and work achievements you’ve gained, which is an excellent way to employment.
Choosing the project is simple. You just need to find a project you like at the European Youth portal. You can apply through your sending organisation, such as your HI organisation, for example. And keep in mind that the project theme is more important than the location, so pick a project that really piques your interest. Volunteers have varying experiences that range from amazing to those not-so-good. Who you work with and who your superiors are is an important piece information. That’s why it’s good to check out the information on the hosting organisation before travelling abroad. Hostelling International Slovenia has sent its volunteers abroad to participate in many projects related to sustainable tourism. Life at Hostel was one such project hosted by the partner organisation HI Norway. The volunteer there dealt with promotion of the organisation on social network in larger cities. And I, for example, am currently in Iceland, participating in the ESC HI ECO PROMOTERS projects. The main aim of the project is to find sustainable solutions in HI hostels in Reykjavik and to promote these solutions among staff, locals and tourists.
Hostelling International Slovenia volunteers get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to apply for a HI Connect exchange, which includes 13 European countries as well as Canada, the USA and South Korea. You get to spend from two weeks to one month in one of the local hostels, doing various tasks, from planning events to taking care of the hostel’s appearance. Your stay at the hostel is taken care of. You can talk about all the issues you might face with your mentor. Through the exchange, you can learn about lots of good practices that you can apply to your local environment. You also get to meet new people and have a whale of a time.
Thanks to the exchange programme, Hostelling International volunteers have been able to visit almost the entire world. Some volunteers are so fascinated by the programme that they apply more than once. Each time for a different country, of course. Ana, for example, first went to San Diego and then visited Qatar second time around, and she was completely fascinated by the excellent organisation at the hostels. You can apply to HI Connect with your partner, like our two volunteers did when they went to Menorca, and they got to enjoy their working holidays together. One of the aims of the programme is to get to know how hostels function and to socialise with the locals, which is something Petra was able to experience in the sunny Portugal. Many of our volunteers spent their exchange in Spain, which is a great opportunity to consolidate the old language and learn a new one.
Another excellent opportunity is EU Aid Volunteers where volunteers travel to third-world countries to offer practical support when it comes to providing humanitarian aid as well as strengthen the local capacities and resistance when it comes to natural disasters. This programme also covers the costs of transport, accommodation and insurance. Your activities will depend on your location, experience and competences. The projects are mostly related to preparation for disaster and mitigation of the long-term consequences. A training programme is mandatory. There are also long-term volunteer projects where volunteers work long-term on environmental or community projects. These are all a great way to gain project experience. The projects vary greatly and most of them take place outside the EU borders. You can find them in the SCI database.
It’s important to keep in mind during volunteering that the project will come to an end one day, so it would be best to think about your future in the meantime.