Volunteer abroad programs allow you to share your time and skills with a community abroad. They are typically a few weeks to several months in duration and are almost always unpaid. Most are open to students and non-students and do not require any specific skills or language ability.
Unrealistic expectations are often the main source of disappointment on a volunteer program. Consider your own experience, language proficiency, and familiarity with the host culture as you prepare to volunteer abroad. Develop realistic goals. Keep in mind that you may not make an immediate impact that is visible while you are still in the host community.
You may end up working on a project different than what you were initially told or different than what you expected. One of the key elements of a good volunteer program is that the project addresses the actual needs of the community, not the preferences of the volunteer. There may be times where it feels like you are not contributing or “doing” anything. Talking with people from the host community, meeting their families and getting to know one another may be very important in the host culture.
Some programs will provide details of your placement, housing, and other program features before you depart the US, while others may provide minimal information beforehand and finalize your specific volunteer placement once you arrive in country. Be flexible and know that there is a great deal to be learned from any project.
Many students want to know why they have to pay to volunteer their time and energy. In addition to providing your food, housing, transportation, etc., the program fee often supports the project and community in which you will be working. The fee provides the administrative support for arranging your placement and ensuring that the project is continued in the future.