5 Tips for Being a Star Volunteer

Peace Corps

Written by  March 5, 2013
Preparation and the right attitude can make all the difference—for you and for your overseas host.

Good intentions only go so far. If you truly want to make a positive contribution as an international volunteer, here are five tips to help you be an effective and valued team member.

1. Make a list of your skills and experiences – and don’t discount the small stuff

According to Erin Barnhart, Founder of Effective Altruism, having a clear sense of what you’re good at and what you’d like to learn is invaluable in helping you to make the most of a volunteer placement. It will also help an organization determine an appropriate role for you as a volunteer.

2. Do your homework

Learn as much as you can about the country you’re going to and the people who live there. Learn about the organization you’ll be volunteering with and be sure to read any prep materials you’ve been given. Are there skills you can learn at home before you leave that will be useful on your placement? (e.g. take a carpentry class if you’ll be helping with a building project).

3. Make sure you have realistic expectations

Be prepared to wear hats you’ve never had to wear and to poke your toes outside of your comfort zone. Even after you’ve identified your key skills, you may find yourself having to take on other sorts of work during your volunteer placement. Go with an open mind and be flexible. And remember, you’re there temporarily. You’re not going to change the world, but you can make a valuable contribution toward world-changing actions.

4. Be prepared for differences in culture—including work culture

The way you accomplish a task may be efficient and effective by North American standards, but that doesn’t mean it’s the “right” way of doing things everywhere. Be prepared to learn and embrace new approaches.

5. Bring the experience home

Many overseas NGOs are desperate for support, volunteers and funds. International volunteers have a vital role to play in ensuring their ongoing success by drumming up interest and support in other corners of the world.

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Published in Volunteer Abroad
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Jessica Wynne Lockhart

Contributing editor

Although Jessica has travelled to more than 30 countries, her favorite place to throw down her bag is still her hometown of Cold Lake, Alberta. A freelance journalist, Jess has worked for international development organizations and tour operators. She’s conducted workshops in Vanuatu, perfected the use of a satellite phone in the jungles of Guyana and supervised teenage pool parties in the Dominican Republic. Although she's based in Toronto, Jess works remotely from all around the world, blogging about her adventures at Go Further Travel.

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