Choosing the Right High School Volunteer Abroad Program
If you’re interested in adding international volunteer service to your high school experience, finding a program that meets your needs starts with knowing what you want to learn or contribute and what kind of excursion you hope to have. High school students can visit different parts of the world and join a wide range of causes. To find the right opportunity for you, think about what kind of difference you want to make on the world. Here are some things to consider when selecting a service trip:
Location: Where in the world do you want to go?
Programs are available in memorable locations throughout the world that can benefit from the time and skills of high school volunteers. When choosing a location, think about language barriers. If you have any training in speaking a second language, consider volunteering in a country that speaks that language. This allows you to use the language in real-world situations and enables you to better connect with the people you meet through your service program. Other considerations related to location include weather, culture, the political climate in the region and other local aspects that will definitely impact your experience.
Service focus: What do you want to do?
After you choose a place or narrow down the options to a particular region, think about what kind of work you want to do. What made you want to explore the possibility of a volunteer abroad program in the first place? If your interest stems from something other than the actual work, then start by deciding if you want to work mainly with people, animals, nature or infrastructure? What skills do you want to contribute and strengthen through the service program?
Programs center on all sorts of work — from community gardening and reforestation to coaching sports or building homes and irrigation systems. For students interested in zoology or veterinary science, for example, a program that puts student volunteers face to face with elephants or marine wildlife is ideal. Similarly, instead of focusing on what a volunteer can contribute to a community, some programs center on helping volunteers better understand a traditional culture through immersion and learning, which may be well suited for students interested in international relations and diplomacy.
Program management: Who’s running this show?
When you find an organization that offers the kinds of opportunities you’re looking for, look closer. Find out how the organization operates and how it perceives its purpose. Why does the group organize volunteer service opportunities for high school students? Do you agree with this philosophy and world view? What do other people say about this organization and the programs it offers?
Also find out how much support the organization provides student volunteers. This will probably impact the program costs. In other words, organizations that arrange for transportation, lodging and meals, as well as recreational and learning activities, often leverage partnerships and volume pricing to minimize the out-of-pocket costs. Inclusive-style programs tend to be more cost-effective and structured than a DIY, freestyle approach to volunteer abroad opportunities that leave most of the trip planning to volunteers themselves.
Housing: Where’s home away from home?
Before making any final decisions about your high school volunteer abroad program, make sure you’re comfortable with the housing situation. Will you live with a local family as part of the community, or does the organization have dedicated housing where volunteers stay together? As the service period gets longer, housing becomes increasingly important to the overall volunteer experience.
Ultimately, the most important step in choosing the right high school volunteer abroad program is figuring out what you want to achieve from the experience. International travel can be enriching and even life-changing, and pairing it with volunteer service takes the experience to an entirely new level. To ensure you embark on a rewarding trip that’s positive for yourself as well as the people you hope to meet and support, spend some time thinking about your intentions and goals. Knowing what you’re looking for usually makes finding it much easier.