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How to Not Suck at Being an International Volunteer

by Emma Higgins

Many people who have volunteered around the globe will have an odd story to tell or perhaps a bad experience to share. Sometimes you never know what you’re going to get before you arrive at a placement, but the reverse is also true—the people you’re volunteering with have no idea what kind of volunteer is going to show up. I’ve had very few negative experiences, but I have seen plenty of problem volunteers. Here’s a quick guide on how NOT to join the ranks of the sucky volunteers.

Do the Job You’re There to Do

If you have a good host, you should be prepared for your duties as a volunteer before you arrive and throughout the project. When agreeing to work as a volunteer, you’ve agreed to carry out certain tasks, and you should make sure you meet expectations. Volunteers who fail to do what’s expected of them are a host’s worst nightmare, especially if they’re running a business that contributes to their personal livelihoods. Slackers are never welcomed at volunteer projects—make sure you go into your placement with a strong willingness to work.

Enthusiasm Will Take You a Long Way

Further to the last point, the more enthusiastic and motivated you are to do the work, the more you will get out of the experience. The more you dedicate yourself to doing the best job you can while you’re there, the more it will be appreciated by your host and the more opportunities they will provide. Being demotivated and unexcited about the work you’re doing eliminates the element of fun that volunteering should always include.

Be Respectful

If you’re staying in a family home during your volunteer placement, there may be certain ways of living and practices that you’re not used to. Even though they might seem alien, you need to be respectful of the different ways that people live. You are travelling after all, and experiencing different cultures and customs. If your host eats vegetarian, then politely tuck into those veggies, and if they say prayers before dinner, get ready to bow your head and keep quiet.

Volunteering is a Two-way Street

It’s the responsibility of both the volunteer and the host to do their best to make the experience a positive and fulfilling one. The best thing you can do is go into the project with an open mind and as much motivation as possible. You might get involved with things you may never have dreamed of doing, but being closed off to new things is probably the worst thing to do if you want to volunteer and travel. There will be surprises with each and every placement, and so as long as you’re always willing to tackles new challenges, you’ll be the best volunteer around.

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