Written by The Leap on 28 / 12 / 2017
Gap Year Advice
6 benefits of volunteering that you hadn’t thought of...
Volunteering abroad is a powerful tool that, when done right can facilitate positive change around the world. Everyone has their own reasons and motivation for volunteering. Some are personal, such as to see the world, meet new friends, build confidence levels and gain new skills. Others are altruistic and revolve around helping communities in need, improving education, medical opportunities, infrastructure, and the environment.
For most people, it’s a mixture of both. However, there are aspects of personal development that you gain from volunteering that you won’t have perhaps thought of and will ultimately have a great impact on your life.
One of the reasons you might be looking to volunteer abroad is to meet new people and make friends for life. In doing this you will learn the power of teamwork. Single-handedly you can’t change the world, but as soon as you get a group of like-minded people together, working for the same cause suddenly you can achieve big things. Not only is this empowering, it can change the way you look at situations in your personal and professional life, team working skills are essential to almost every job.
Take our program in Cambodia as an example. Each team combines their minds, strength and local staff’s expertise to construct wells and toilet blocks in highly impoverished communities who have no access to clean water and sanitation. These basic facilities can save lives, preventing the spread of deadly diseases such as cholera.
If you are at a stage in life where you will soon be moving away from home volunteering will throw you into the deep end. However, ultimately you will realise you can find second… third or fourth homes in new places. You will be welcomed into new communities and, before you have time to be homesick your new country will be a home-from-home for life. When it comes to settling into college or work you will instantly find yourself more confident and at ease.
It is likely that you will witness areas of extreme poverty, the plight of these communities allows you to see some of the struggles the western world never has to face. Nonetheless, you will come to realise just how welcoming, happy and generous these communities are even though they live with very little. Travelling and volunteering in less developed countries changes how you see the world. It gives you a greater appreciation for the simple things in life that you might take for granted back home.
When travelling you are guaranteed to meet people from different cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds. Many first-time travellers tend to experience culture shock, but this is by no means a bad or scary thing. Your eyes will be opened to cultures that work with a different mind-set or even language to you. This teaches you adaptability, patience and sensitivity, all useful skills in a working environment that will allow you to focus on cultural capabilities in the future.
Social media has become part of daily life. For most of us checking our phone, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are part of our morning routine. On average people spend nearly 2 hours a day on social media; a whopping 5 years over a lifetime.
One of the great things about volunteering abroad is a complete social media detox. Your friends and family know you’ll be away, you’ll have limited access to the internet, phone signal or electricity so you can put your phone down and enjoy the simple pleasures of life. It’s a refreshing experience and I highly recommend it to everyone. You’ll return home having kicked the technology habit.
Volunteering abroad often requires a lot of time outside walking, doing physical activities such as construction or soaking up the sun as well as nature. This will help improve your physical fitness, ensure your recommended daily dose of vitamin D and help with your mental health. A study from Stanford University found that spending 90 minutes in nature each day can reduce depression and anxiety.
Most importantly, volunteering abroad is different. You’ve been at school, you’ve probably been on holiday. It’ll be a chance for you to learn in an environment outside a classroom – one I’m sure you’re definitely a little bored of now. It will be unlike any other holiday you’ve had and I guarantee you it will exceed all expectations. The period that I spent volunteering abroad is one of the greatest times of my life. I can look back at these happy memories and they make me smile even through the toughest day of exams or when knee-deep in work.
Ultimately, whatever you end up doing you will love but trust us when we say volunteering (rather than just ‘travelling’) will have lasting impacts on your life and the future decisions you make. So relax, get ready for an adventure, open yourself up to the experience of a lifetime!
If you’re unsure how to get started, have a read of our blog we wrote on the best way to start organising your volunteering.
on 28 / 12 / 2017