Have you been looking at overseas volunteer opportunities for teens? Many high school students do community service activities in foreign countries because it allows them to see a new part of the world, experience some independence, and help others, all at the same time.
Why Do Community Service?
For starters, it feels good. Being able to do something that makes a real difference in someone else’s life and the world is incredibly rewarding. Volunteering also gives you a chance to explore an interest, practice your language skills or travel in an area of the world that intrigues you.
Taking part in community service in places such as South America, Asia or Africa is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and will teach you a great deal about the big globalized world you’re growing up in. This is a chance for your own personal growth and an opportunity to have fun far from home (i.e. your parents).
There is summer volunteer work for teens to fit every budget and every schedule. And volunteer programs have experienced staff to support you and help you negotiate strange territory. Your trip leaders will be experienced in working with high school students and traveling within your host country. Make sure that you follow the program’s rules and guidelines and you’ll have a great time.
If this is your first time overseas, you may be a little nervous but don’t let that stop you.
Here are a few tips to make sure you have a great time volunteering even if you are far from home.
1. Learn The Language (At Least A Few Words)
No matter where you are traveling, learn everyday words such as greetings and numbers in whatever the local language happens out to be. Even just a few words such as “Hello,” “Please,” and “Thank You” show the people you meet that you care about their culture and you aren’t just showing up to add a check mark on your high school resume.
2. Connect With Others Before You Go Overseas
Most overseas volunteer organizations will have a website with email addresses where you can contact program leaders and other participants. Many will even have Facebook pages where all the high school volunteers can connect and share information before they head off overseas.
This is a great opportunity to start building relationships before you arrive. You can start to make friends, ask specific questions and tell other volunteers about yourself.
And if you’ll be living with a host family in a homestay, ask if you can connect with family members (kids and parents!) before you arrive, via Skype or Facebook or even letters.
3. Get in Shape
Perhaps you’ll be building schools in Africa through an international volunteer organization or cleaning cages in a wildlife sanctuary through a summer program in Thailand. Even if your community service activities are limited to teaching English in a classroom, you’re likely going to do much more walking around than you’re used to, often with a heavy backpack on your shoulders.
Taking a little extra time to visit the gym or jog around your neighborhood is a great way to make sure you’re ready for the physical strains you may encounter while volunteering overseas.
4. Save Up Some Money
You’ll most likely be traveling with a high school volunteer program, so meals and housing will be included in the cost. But you should still take some money with you for the days you go into town and for the souvenirs you’ll want to bring home for your friends and parents. (You will bring home gifts for mom and dad, right?) And you want to have a little extra cash in case you miss the last bus and need to catch a taxi back to your homestay.
And, be sure to follow your program’s advice for arranging to have access to funds or a credit card in an emergency.
5. Do A Little Location Research
Sitting at home in front of your computer is the best time to start learning about the place you’re about to visit. Search for the city/town on Google maps to get a sense of the main areas and the public transportation system (if there is one!).
Importantly, find out where not to go. A quick Google search of “Dangerous Area In X City” often brings up old forum posts or Internet comments from people who have been there or live there. You can go to the U.S. Department of State website to look for travel alerts and warnings for specific countries. And the Central Intelligence Agency website has information and maps related to more than 250 countries. It’s a great source for background on the countries that you might be visiting.