Volunteer in Thailand with Friends for Asia

10 Tips for Choosing a Volunteer Project Abroad

Thinking about volunteering abroad? Here are 10 critical considerations worth keeping in mind while looking for a worthwhile project that is right for you:

Girl at Children's Home

1. Availability of Transport
Daily transport to / from your accommodation and project sites is a big deal. It’s not something that most people think about when checking out international volunteer placements. However, this can be a major issue once you’re in-country. The commute for some placements can be over an hour in one direction and cost a lot of additional money. Don’t make sitting in the back of a hot, dirty bus one of the defining memories of your volunteer experience. Walking to the project site is normally not possible. But, when checking into different projects, do take this into strong consideration.

2. Project Coordination
Coordination and support of the project placement is key. If the coordination and organization of a project is not established then everything falls apart. It’s important to know who will be overseeing the coordination of one’s placement, what their role in your experience will be, how often you will see that person and what steps are required to contact them in the event that a problem arises. Strong project coordination and support go a long way toward ensuring that any problems are dealt with swiftly and appropriately.

3. Staff Professionalism
Staff professionalism and experience are essential components in a well-run program. Are the administrative and support staff at the project you are considering educated and well-trained? Do they have experience working with foreigners? The “About Us” page of most organizations’ websites should provide pictures and bios of staff. If looking to engage in a well-arranged, professional project, then it’s wise to avoid organizations with “About Us” pages that provide what amounts to immature selfies taken at a bar and passes them off as staff photos. Remember, these individuals will ultimately be responsible for dealing with programming conflicts, medical issues and any other situations that arise during your time in the project. It’s important to know that you are not stealing them away from the bar to help you if you find yourself very sick late at night.

4. Proper Orientation
A proper orientation and introduction shows you that your hosting organization really wants you to succeed. How can an individual be expected to arrive into a foreign country and jump right into their project without knowing at least some of the most important details and strategies for success? Language, cultural and technical training / orientation should be provided to all incoming participants. Otherwise a system of reciprocal failure results, and projects do not last long.

5. Thorough Application Process
Hosting organizations that insist on vetting potential applicants through a full-fledged application process and background check do so with the intent to establish who you are and why you are coming to volunteer. It shows that they genuinely care about the project sites, and not just your project fees. Admittedly, an application process may seem boring and unnecessary to some. But it’s absolutely essential. Furthermore, any organization that does not require potential volunteers to submit background checks before working with children either doesn’t know what they are doing, or they don’t care about the kids at the project site. Either way, that’s not an organization or project that you would want to associate with. Hosting organizations know that providing documents and a bunch of paperwork is tedious, time-consuming and sometimes even expensive. However, it’s important that hosting organizations look out for best interests of the individuals at each project site. Volunteers should view these steps as an important means of running quality projects and caring for all involved.

Children's Home Picture

6. Volunteer Skills and Experience
Look for projects for which you have relevant skills and experience. Understandably, some volunteers wish to do step out and do something totally different while they travel. However, in order to maximize their contribution and get the most out of a project, we recommend that applicants stick to what they are good at or have experience in. If you are good with kids, then a project working with children or teaching will be best for you. If you are handy with fixing and building things, then participating in a construction or renovation project may be best.

7. Safety of Hosting Country
Check out countries where you would be comfortable traveling by yourself. If traveling internationally for the first time, then it’s best to visit a country where you feel safe. Hosting organizations (should) provide support, information, project programming, orientation and accommodation. However, they are not responsible for everything and everywhere you go during your time in the country. Looking for a safe country in which to engage in your first experience abroad provides an extra layer of protection.

8. Hosting Organization’s Background
Get a feel for the placement organization and read up on what they provide. Be skeptical if their website features what appear to be stock photography and limited useful content. Likewise, it’s a bad sign if the communications staff is slow in responding to your messages. Take time to research a potential hosting organization, checking out their videos, photographs and other relevant information – not just on their own site, but on third-party websites as well. This will help provide you with peace of mind regarding the benefits and support provided for a particular placement.

9. Dynamic International Atmosphere
Inquire to see how many other like-minded volunteers will be in the projects during your placement. Getting to know locals and forging friendships in the host country is a highlight of any volunteer project. However, sharing your experience with other international volunteers also has its rewards. Particularly, it will help you process your experience while also learning about the experience of other volunteers in different placements.

10. Activities and Excursions
Plan activities for weekends and down time. Most volunteer projects run from two to four weeks and usually only from Monday to Friday. Joining in activities, short trips and weekend excursions is a great way to enhance the experience. Placements in rural areas can provide intense opportunities in cultural immersion. However, rural areas offer less to do during weekends and down time. Cities have more to offer in terms of visiting museums, taking part in adventure activities and checking out historical sites.