Back from volunteering abroad: Was it worth it?
After you come home from volunteering abroad, you might find yourself reflecting on your experience. Hopefully it was both enjoyable and inspiring – but was it worth it?
The answer to this will be different for everyone, but it’s a part of the story that you seldom hear.
As a previous volunteer, I believe it’s important to highlight that the experience is not just about your time on a project. The benefits of volunteering can also have an impact on your future. My time as a GVI volunteer definitely influenced my life going forward, but it was only upon reflection that I was able to determine exactly how.
If you have just come home and are asking yourself if it was worth it, read on below.
Why did you volunteer?
To discover whether your time abroad had an impact for both yourself and others, a good place to start is remembering why you did it in the first place.
I wanted a change in career. I had come from a science background and had reached a point where I knew I wanted to do work that gives something back. Volunteering abroad on GVI’s Mexico community internship became my way forward.
What about you? People volunteer for many different reasons. For some, it’s for a career change. For others, it can be the need to make an impact, to gain some real-life experience or to support a cause that’s important to them.
Figuring out the reason why you decided to volunteer in the first place can give you the benchmark that enables you to see how far you’ve come. You may even realise that your original motivations were different.
I realised that even though my original motivation was to gain the necessary experience to work in the charity sector in my home country, what I got out of it was so much bigger than that. I got to really live in a different country, discover my love of tacos de pastor and learn how much I really do not like mole de pollo, despite trying really hard to love it.
I faced the challenge of trying to learn salsa in Spanish combined with my apparent inability to distinguish right from left. I made friends with people from many different places, ensuring I now have a lifetime of places to visit.
These memories were the icing on the cake for me. So take some time to remember why you volunteered and then to see if those motivations were achieved. If they were, then it was worth it and anything else you gained was a bonus.
What did you learn from volunteering?
One of the benefits of volunteering abroad is that you learn many new skills. These skills can be beneficial for you both personally and professionally.
For me, it started with learning a new language. The extent of my Spanish vocabulary had been “hola” and “gracias”, so I had a long way to go before I could have a conversation. Mexico was where it started.
As I was doing the internship, I was involved with all the different community project activities on base. I had to learn how to plan and deliver classes about the environment in a different language. I also had to plan and help deliver two fundraising challenges to help raise money for the project partners, where showed I could take the lead when needed – something I had often shied away from in the past.
These are just my examples, and yours will be different. But taking a minute to make a list of everything you’ve learnt, including both practical and soft skills, is a great way to show yourself everything you have accomplished. They’re not always obvious at the time. You will have done more than you think.
You will also learn a lot about yourself and others in a way that you might not have expected. For example, I realised I am a lot more adaptable than I thought. I couldn’t remember the last time I had shared a room with other people, let alone with people I had never met. I also adapted to the heat – I went to Playa del Carmen in the summer and I wasn’t prepared for it.
Looking back at your time volunteering, did you learn any new skills? Did you overcome any obstacles? Did you learn anything new about yourself? Such reflection is a great way for you to decide if your time volunteering was worth it.
What will happen after your volunteering trip?
There are many benefits of volunteering, so for whatever reason you decided to volunteer, it has the potential to change your life’s direction.
My six months became almost two years, with me working for GVI for a further one and a half years as a volunteer coordinator, a lot of which was spent abroad. My experience was very different from my original expectations.
What else changed? After my time with GVI I did a TEFL course in Costa Rica, something I never would have considered before. This led to me being able to teach English as a foreign language online.
Another consequence was agreeing to travel with my friend through South America. That involved two land border crossings. As a nervous traveller, I would never have done this before volunteering.
When I came home, I was able to work for an educational social enterprise and I enrolled in a new social science course at university due to my newfound skills and experiences.
None of this would have been possible if I hadn’t realised that my fear of the unknown had been a barrier preventing me from doing new things. Volunteering abroad helped me overcome this.
I learnt so much about myself and others, learnt new perspectives, formed lifelong friendships and gained unforgettable memories.
In the end, the only way to really know if your volunteering experience was worth it is to think: Has my life changed? If the choices and perspectives you have now are different, then you will know that volunteering had an impact, and will probably affect your future.
So take a minute, and think about your answers to the questions in this article. Why not try it right now? Perhaps even share it?
So now that you remember the reason, what you learnt while volunteering abroad, and how it made a difference, perhaps it’s time to embark on your next volunteer journey! What are you waiting for? Book that next trip!
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