What Can Volunteering Abroad Teach Me That School Can’t?

    Posted: June 29, 2017

    Education is everything, and everywhere – not just in school.

    In fact, there are some things you can’t learn within the four walls of a classroom, and you need to explore the four corners of the earth to gain. Working as a volunteer overseas is a fast track to valuable experience and great life lessons.

    Volunteering abroad makes you learn to think independently, look at the world in new ways, and learn skills that no school can teach you.

    Here’s why you should take the leap.


    You’ll learn how to fend for yourself

    A big part of doing that thing they call adulting is being able to fend for yourself. Your school may give you the knowledge and tools you need to become independent, but it can’t quite give you the push you need to get there.

    Volunteering, on the other hand, will force you outside of your comfort zone. In another country, possibly on another continent, even things as simple as navigating public transport can be daunting tasks. Your volunteer program will help you with all the big stuff, so you won’t have to worry about where you’re staying or what visa you’ll need, but a lot of the time it will be up to you to manage small day-to-day tasks.

    It can be tough at first, but once you have ordered your first meal in another language, or hopped on a bus and got to the place you were meant to be going, you’ll start to feel your confidence grow. You’ll come home more independent than when you left, with a new, capable take on life – if you can volunteer abroad, you can do anything!

    You’ll gain a global perspective

    Cultural awareness is a crucial skill in international societies and workplaces, but it’s not easily taught in school.

    No matter how many history or anthropology textbooks you read, it’s hard to have a well-rounded worldview until you’ve dived headfirst into another culture and looked at the world from a totally different angle.

    Volunteering overseas will give you the unique opportunity to immerse yourself in a different way of life. You’ll gain a new perspective on things you took for granted and bridge cultural gaps with your newfound knowledge.


    Further reading: This Is How Volunteering Will Help Your University Application

    You’ll develop interpersonal skills

    Wait, you’re thinking, but I have plenty of friends at school. My interpersonal skills are great! School might teach you how to interact with your peers, but volunteering will teach you how to communicate with pretty much anyone.

    Interpersonal skills are about more than just making friends. Working alongside people from diverse cultures will teach you how to relate to others from completely different backgrounds, how to be more empathetic to cultures you may not necessarily understand, and how to find common ground with someone on the other side of the world.

    Of course, you’ll make great friends along the way too, but on a higher level volunteering abroad will teach you to listen to others and learn how to see the world through their eyes. These communication skills will hold you in good stead in your personal and professional life long after you have completed your volunteer project.

    You’ll discover new levels of empathy

    Studying global issues in school is one thing; experiencing them firsthand for yourself is something else entirely. Volunteering abroad takes you right into the heart of some of the challenges facing people around the world, so you’ll see what life is like in countries where simple things such as fresh water and healthcare can’t be taken for granted.

    By putting faces to global problems and forging friendships with people in these countries, you’ll come to a new understanding of need. Hearing the unique narratives of people who have faced challenges will teach you more than the facts in a textbook ever could.

    Volunteering on a healthcare project, for example, you will see communities in need of things like basic nutrition, sanitation, and maternal health. Seeing how these problems affect real people will give galvanize your desire to change the world, as you’ll understand more deeply why we need these projects.


    Further reading: 10 Key Reasons Why Empathy Is Important For Career Success


    You’ll realize smiles are smiles everywhere

    This might be one of the most important lessons you ever learn, but no one will ever teach you this in school.

    Volunteering in another country, you will quickly realize that a lot of the things you thought were universal actually aren’t. Even something as simple as a nod doesn’t mean the same thing everywhere – in some places you could be saying no!


    The one thing that is the same across cultures, languages and other social barriers is a smile. It’s the simplest of gestures, but sometimes it’s the easiest and best way to show how much you care, wherever you are in the world.

    You’ll understand that happiness isn’t about what you have, it’s about what you do

    Here’s another life lesson that you will only come across in the school of volunteering – helping others can help you to feel happier and more satisfied with life. A study from BMC Health backed this up, discovering that volunteers experience an increased sense of wellbeing and reduced symptoms of depression.


    At the beginning of your career, you might aspire to a high-paying job, a nice car and maybe even a house. Volunteering will be a chance for you to evaluate whether these are the things that are most important to you, or whether you will find more happiness following a path that will help others and help you to have a real impact in the world.

    Feel ready to start making a difference? Find out more about GVI’s international, award-winning volunteering programs and internships, and choose from community development, animal care, teaching, women’s empowerment, and conservation projects worldwide.