By Original Volunteers
Choosing to volunteer on your gap year can be pretty daunting. The amount of projects can be overwhelming, and the number of countries you can pick from is seemingly endless.
And even when you do finally decide to take the plunge, the doubts usually begin to set in: why am I doing this? Can I afford it? Will I make a difference? And will I cope?
Unfortunately, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about volunteering abroad on gap years. It all fuels your uncertainty. Tests your resolve.
Let’s tackle some doubts that most people have before deciding to become a volunteer…
1. I’m not cut out to be a volunteer
A lot of people are put off volunteering because they assume it’s not for them. Because they think there’s a certain ‘type’ of person that does volunteering projects.
There’s no one type of person that does volunteering. Volunteers come in all different shapes and sizes, all different ages and backgrounds. A volunteer is just someone who wants to contribute their time, money and skills in a constructive way.
2. I probably need experience
Experience is obviously always helpful, but most volunteering placements don’t require you to have any prior qualifications. The most important thing is that you have energy, patience and a willingness to learn on whatever placement you’re doing.
3. I’ll be all on my own out there
With Original Volunteers’ placements you won’t just be taken to the middle of nowhere and left on your own. On placements there is full local support, so you’ll have a contact ‘on the ground’ to go to with any questions, concerns or problems.
Of course, if you want to be more independent, your placement can be tailored to allow you more flexibility.
4. It’ll be too hard
There is a difference between volunteering and just going on holiday. As a volunteer you’re doing a job. You’re working. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be overworked. When you’re a volunteer, people appreciate that you’re giving up your time. They’ll help you out. You’ll have support and people to talk to.
And the effort is worth it. Volunteering can be incredibly rewarding. The feeling of knowing you’ve contributed to a worthwhile project is really satisfying.
5. I want to have fun, but volunteering is all work, work, work!
Volunteering is a package. Yes, there’s the work – but there’s also the fun side to volunteering. Volunteers socialise and hang out together. Explore places together. There are bonding sessions. Communal meals. You can make friends for life. You can even find a travel buddy before you leave.
Although your primary motive for volunteering should be because you want to help people and contribute something of yourself, most of us wouldn’t volunteer unless it was fun too!
6. I’m not sure I have time
Well, if you’re taking a gap year then you’ve got a year! But maybe you’re not on a gap year. Maybe you’re studying or working full-time – no chance for volunteering, right? Wrong. You can volunteer for as little as one or two weeks with Original Volunteers. So that means you can plan a trip during a university semester break or a work holiday window.
7. I won’t make a difference
Don’t underestimate your ability to make an impact in a short period of time. If you fully immerse yourself in your placement and work hard, you can contribute a huge amount whether you’re teaching, building or caring for kids in an orphanage.
A lot of volunteers are let down by their expectations. You can’t save the world by volunteering for a month. But you could make a meaningful impact on someone’s life in that time. You could make your own little contribution to the greater good.
8. I can’t afford it
Gap years can be expensive, for sure. But a lot of the placements with Original Volunteers cost only £125 per week, and some placements are actually free! You don’t have to fork out a fortune to spend time on a worthwhile placement.
Of course there are other costs involved in addition to the placement. There are flights, meals, spending money, etc. But there are ways around this. You can pick a good value destination, fly out-of-season, shop like the locals and pick up inexpensive food.
9. I just want to travel and see places
The best way to experience a country is probably to combine a volunteering and backpacking trip. You could spend a few weeks volunteering, then throw on the backpack and see some more of the country.
Backpacking is an adventure; you’re always on the move. But by living and working in one place you get to see parts of a country that tourists never would. You get to meet people you’d never speak to while backpacking or on holiday. Volunteering helps you get under the skin of a place. Really get a feel for it. Maybe even understand it. It’s arguably a deeper, richer and more meaningful experience.
10. I’ll get homesick
When you volunteer abroad you leave behind everything that’s familiar. You step out of your comfort zone into a seemingly alien environment. Unsurprisingly, you can get a little homesick. Experience some culture shock.
But that’s part of the experience. If everything was the same, there’d be no point going! And now that we’re more connected to our friends and family than ever before on social media, it’s easy to make a call home, catch up with people and get your fix of what you’ve left behind.