Volunteering abroad is one of the most rewarding ways to spend your summer holiday from university. It will equip you with desirable skills for future employers and who doesn’t want to spend weeks soaking up a new culture? As exciting as the prospect is, your health and safety is the top priority when volunteering in a foreign country. Preparation and knowing what to expect is key to preventing any unwanted issues. Here are some crucial pointers for making sure your volunteer experience is as amazing as you hope!
Stay in control of your physical health
Depending on where you choose to volunteer, it is likely that you will need to consider these:
- Travel vaccinations – Some are available on the NHS but be prepared to pay for others if they are advised! Also, make sure you leave enough time for the vaccinations before your departure date.
- Sun screen – This goes without saying if you’re volunteering in a sunny destination. Make sure you stock up before you go and always opt for a higher SPF – you’ll thank yourself.
- Rehydration medication – Throughout your time volunteering, you will likely try the local cuisine. Even though this is important for your cultural experience, fruits and vegetables will be prepared using the local water supply. This could potentially cause a stomach upset so keep some rehydration sachets with you just in case.
- Travel Insurance – This is the most important thing to get before you travel. Not only will it guarantee medical treatment should you become unwell, it will also cover stressful unexpected issues such as lost luggage. Just make sure you choose the correct policy considering the duration of your experience and the activities you will be doing. ALWAYS read the fine print.
Obviously these things can differ between individuals, always consider your own specific needs when travelling.
Managing culture shock
Volunteering abroad will involve working directly with the local population and immersing yourself in their culture. Throughout the first few days, you might experience culture shock. This is where you feel confused/disoriented because of a lack of familiarity with your surroundings. While it can feel unpleasant, there are ways to help overcome this feeling including:
- Seek comfort in the new friends you feel close to. While these friendships will be relatively new, you are all going through the same thing so talking about how you all feel is essential.
- Engage in activities. Keeping active is a great way of distracting yourself and improving your mood! This will also strengthen the bonds between you and your new friends.
- Home comforts and keeping in touch. Taking familiar items and keeping regular contact with your family/friends from home will lift your mood. But, avoid comparing home to your volunteer destination as this will only worsen your mood.
- Don’t engage in avoidance behaviours. Try to get stuck in and enjoy all of the available activities instead of moping around in your room during free time. This will have a negative impact on your mood and will only increase any social anxieties.
Your volunteer coordinators will always be on hand to help if you are experiencing any issues – big or small. Always reach out to them as your mental and physical health is their number one priority.
Enjoy it while you can!
As cliche as it sounds, volunteering abroad will be the summer of a lifetime. At no other period in your life will you have as many opportunities to explore whilst having a positive impact on a local population. The friendships you make will be extremely helpful in navigating your work with the local population. Befriending the locals you work with is also something you should aim to do – there is no better way to understand a culture than to learn about it from those who live it! There is no doubt that you will take lifelong memories from this experience, so love it while it lasts.
You can read some more advice on spending time abroad below:
- How to manage returning from studying abroad
- The best things about studying abroad
- Tips on getting student friendly holiday prices
- Getting ready to study abroad