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.Add this article to your reading list