Should you volunteer abroad on your own?

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You can see the world as a volunteer on your own; just think carefully before you go (Photo credit: Fr Antunes, Creative Commons/Flickr)

With summer in full swing, many people are looking to use their vacation time to give back by volunteering abroad. Fortunately, there are a ton of organizations that can help you find a great volunteer opportunity overseas.┬áBut what if you want to volunteer abroad on your own? Perhaps none of the programs you see match your interest or availability. Or maybe you’re excited by the idea of exploring a new country on your own. Before you book a plane ticket, think about the following pros and cons to volunteering alone in another country:

Pros:

You have greater control over your time and money: When you set out to volunteer abroad on your own, you control your budget, what kind of work you do, how long you stay, and whatever criteria are important to you when selecting a volunteer opportunity.

You can integrate volunteering overseas with travel and study: Because you are in control of your schedule, it’s easier to fit your volunteer experience in with other events like studying abroad and travel.

You can immerse yourself in the community: While many volunteer-sending organizations do encourage you to get to know the community you are helping, when you are abroad on your own you are more likely to interact frequently with local citizens and organizations instead of with program staff who may be from your country.

[Already set on volunteering abroad? Check out this list of questions you should ask before you go.]

Cons:

You have to face challenges on your own: Sick? Lost? Problems with your visa? Not happy with the experience? Unfortunately, when you volunteer solo, you’ll have to deal with these issues — along with other risks — alone.

You have to do much more research: You can lower the risks you encounter by doing as much research as possible before you go. However, even this can be challenging: while volunteer-sending organizations build relationships with local NGOs and have websites where you can explore opportunities, if you’re going on your own, you’ll have to find a way to get in touch with local organizations who might not be easily accessible.

You might be a drain on local organizations: If you aren’t fluent in the language, you’ll likely need more support to complete tasks. And for organizations that don’t have many volunteers, there is no guarantee that someone will be able to fill your role once you’ve moved on, resulting in much of the work you started being left unfinished.

There are more pros and cons to volunteering abroad on your own and we encourage you to explore them. However, the best way to get a sense of whether or not you should go alone is by talking to other volunteers. What did they love? What did they struggle with? And what, if anything, would they do differently?

Have you volunteered abroad on your own? Tell us about your experience!

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