Volunteering Abroad: The Pros and Cons

by - April 03, 2016

Today I want to talk about volunteering abroad. I have volunteered abroad twice, and I honestly do think it's one of the best things you can do. I realise it's not an opportunity available to everyone, but if the opportunity arises, I cannot recommend it enough!


There are so many pros of volunteering abroad, but here are the main ones for me:

1. Meeting new people 
You really can make friends for life. I'm very lucky to have always got on extremely well with people I have volunteered with, and I know this is not always the way but it is easy to make friends. The main thing I noticed about the people I met volunteering is that you meet people with common interests, which helps you get on and break the ice. You are all going through the same things at the same time; you're all away from home in a new place doing new things, but you share that. You can form incredible bonds very quickly and get very close. 
Secondly, you get meet local people. In my experience, these people have been extremely inspirational, and unlike people I know in the UK. Their lives are very different from ours and you can learn so much from them, which really adds to your experience.

my volunteer group, 2015
2. Seeing new places, but not as a "tourist"
What I mean by this is you get to see the place you are in, in a more intimate way. You get a unique experience of the country and place you are in. As you are working for, and with, local people, you get a glimpse of their day-to-day lives. You don't get this in the same way as a tourist as things are often glorified for tourists; volunteers get a more honest and real experience. 

3.  The new cultures
I realise all 3 pros so far have had "new" in the title; new things are a huge part of volunteering abroad. Volunteering overseas allows you to learn about new cultures you may not have known anything about.

Pilanesberg National Park
4. Makes you stand out 
Volunteering abroad will always look good on your CV and make you stand out to employers. It shows you are adventurous and comfortable in foreign environments. I'm not saying you should volunteer abroad just for something to put on your CV, but it does really add something to make you stand out, especially if your volunteer work relates to your chosen career path. 

5. The options available 

There are so many options available when it comes to volunteering abroad. So many companies offer amazing schemes all over the world. I have only ever volunteered in Africa myself (which I wholeheartedly recommend) but it is available all over. When looking, I would encourage you to do a fair bit of research. Feel free to contact the people running the schemes to ask questions; get all the facts and weigh up the options to find the perfect experience for you.

6. You grow as a person
I don't mean this in a cliché way. I know everyone knows the classic "I found myself" quote people apply to their gap years or travels, and it's just become a big joke. However, volunteering abroad does help you grow. You're far away from home, in a new place, with new people, having new experiences. If you volunteer doing something you love, it can help you realise what you want to do, and how you can go about doing it. 

South Africa


There are some cons of volunteering abroad. In my experience, the pros have massively outweighed the cons; so much so that even coming up with some cons to write about proved difficult. The main ones I thought of are:

1. Cost
When you volunteer, you (I think always) have to pay. This is a main reason to research options as you can compare prices and find one that works for you. Research also is important for finding out about bursaries, subsidies, and ways to help you do what you want to do at a price you can afford. Equally, different countries cost different amounts. Flights also vary massively if you are travelling far away, or to remote places. 

2. Being away from home 

If you are someone who struggles with home sickness, volunteering abroad could be difficult for you.  Depending on how badly this affects you, it does not have to be something that stops you, and I would always encourage people to do it, even if they do get homesick. Volunteering abroad can help you with your homesickness, and when you are busy it is easy to keep your mind of it. 

3. Being out of your comfort zone; infrastructure, climate, nature, disease
Leaving your comfort zone can be a great thing and help you grow, and be a valuable part of your experience. But if you are volunteering in a less developed country, the infrastructure and facilities may not be what you expect, and for some people this is a big hurdle to overcome. Equally, the climate may be very different to what you are used to; whether it's very hot or very cold, it can take some getting used to and could strongly impact your experience. Thirdly, wildlife is a big consideration. If you are coming from the UK especially, this can be an issue. In the UK we have virtually no dangerous animals; no venomous snakes, no lethal and horrible insects, no large predators. My advice would always be to listen to advice you are given, and be respectful of all living creatures. We also have high levels of healthcare here and so some exotic and tropical illnesses also need to be a big consideration when volunteering abroad. Be sure to vaccinate yourself fully, drink clean water and just be travel-smart!

Disclaimer: this post is written from my own point of view, and loosely based on my own experiences. There are SO many other pros of volunteering abroad, and other cons too, but these are definitely the main ones for me. I have also only ever volunteered in wildlife conservation, or related fields. This of course, is only one area you can volunteer in, so whatever you're interested in, you can find the perfect experience for you!

Kgaswane Nature Reserve 

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