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Do You Have What it Takes for Volunteer Work Overseas?

Whatever your reasons for volunteering, choosing volunteer work overseas will depend on your purpose - and your personality.

There are many types of volunteer programs but not every program is for everyone: a lot depends on who you are as a person.

Here are some things you should consider:

  • Who you are and who they are
  • Your lifestyle, culture, marital status, age
  • Your skills and language ability
  • How long the program is
  • How much it costs
  • Do you like roughing it or do you need some comfort and conveniences
  • Are you a loner or do you like company...

Have you ever been done any charity work abroad? What was it like for you? Why not give our readers the benefits of your experience by sharing your story with us?

If you're thinking of volunteering, consider the following

What's your personality like?

If you're a calm and patient person, you might enjoy a rural teaching post. If you love the unknown and change is your middle name, something more adventurous might be for you, perhaps conservation charity work in Africa. If you like working with your hands, a building project might be more up your street.

What about your lifestyle and profile?

Think of who you are... A teen? A grandmother? (Don't worry - senior volunteering is on the rise). A single girl? A lesbian? These could be important cultural considerations in some countries... a single girl may be considered 'loose'; a lesbian could face harassment and discrimination. Keep these things in mind when choosing a country or a region in which for volunteer work overseas and make sure you do enough research to end up somewhere you will feel comfortable.

What if you have no skills?

Many opportunities for volunteer work overseas don't require any special skills at all - they involve digging, counting, watching... You could try living the simple life on an organic farm with WWOOF, a global network that provides you with room and board in exchange for your labor.

If you do have a special skill - if you're a doctor or nurse or electrician or accountant - you might opt for one of the more professional international volunteer programs that let you use those skills to benefit others. And if you have few skills but want to learn some, you could choose a program that would teach you something while you work. (If you're planning a gap year, a good resource on volunteering and searching for a volunteering placement overseas is iGapyear.com).

Volunteer work overseasMedical volunteers with MSF, Médecins Sans Frontières

If you like your travel packaged or at least organized, there's the volunteer vacation, also known as voluntourism, a combination of volunteer work and tourism. These programs cost money - from a little to a lot. Some organizations provide the full package free of charge - airfare, room and board, insurance and even a stipend. Others will charge you for it, and many will fall in-between. Volunteer vacations tend to be short-term events, lasting from a few days to a few weeks, and are a great way to test the volunteer waters if you're not ready for a longer commitment.

If you adhere to a religious faith, an international volunteer mission with a faith-based group might be a fulfilling option. Not only are the placements usually long-term, but a faith-based group may allow you to delve more deeply into a community's life and soul than other types of programs. Many groups offer Christian volunteer workopportunities, and if you not a Christian, faith based volunteering programs from several other faiths may also place you overseas.

Language should be a consideration when choosing volunteer work overseas. Most programs mentioned here require English but there are others, managed by non-English groups. Living in a community is a great opportunity to brush up on a rusty language skill, or learn a new one altogether. I owe my ability to speak Portuguese to six months in Brazil (not to mention the most amazing trip through the Amazon rainforest ever!)

Perhaps you have a particular place in mind. You may dream of volunteering in Africa, with its wildlife and wide open spaces, or Asia or Latin America - you could even volunteer in your own city. There are needy people everywhere.

There's no limit to the amount of time you can volunteer, although each program has a different offer. Some have set dates, others let you come and leave when you please.

You can even share your knowledge or skills for an hour or two if that's all you have - I'm not particularly good at physical work (translation: slightly lazy) but on the road, I've found plenty of ways to make a contribution, however small - by teaching a few classes in rural areas, coaching inner-city youth in English, or editing proposals to help raise funds for poor communities...

Choosing the right program for volunteer work overseas is as important as choosing the right country. Have a look at each website. Does it sound like the kind of volunteer abroad program you'd feel comfortable with? Does it share your philosophy and way of life?

Drop them an email, ask some questions, get to know one another. Search for people who have volunteered with them and get in touch - what was their experience like? Is the organization responsive in times of trouble? Is it flexible, knowledgeable and caring? It is in everyone's interest to get the match right!

Have you ever been a volunteer abroad?

Perhaps you're a returned Peace Corps or VSO volunteer, or have volunteered with an NGO. 

Where did you volunteer, and what did you do? What motivated you to go? What did you learn from the experience? What were your best or your worst moments? What advice would you give other women who want to volunteer abroad?

More and more women are volunteering - your story could help many others in their choices and their experience. Please share it with us!

Have you ever been a volunteer abroad?

Perhaps you're a returned Peace Corps or VSO volunteer, or have volunteered with an NGO.

Where did you volunteer, and what did you do? What motivated you to go? What did you learn from the experience? What were your best or your worst moments? What advice would you give other women who want to volunteer abroad?

More and more women are volunteering - your story could help many others in their choices and their experience. Please share it with us!

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