Finding a way to fill a year spent as a volunteer is often a tricky process. Many people end up wasting their free time between school and university because they do not have a clear idea of what they can do with their time.
What many young people forget is that volunteering abroad will not just help communities in need overseas, but also help to improve a young person’s sense of self-worth and confidence before they need to begin their higher education in earnest.
Pick the Right Project.
This will only happen if the planning and preparation for the year are undertaken thoroughly. The first thing to do is to pick a project that appeals to you. Many agencies and service providers offer a whole range of packaged volunteering opportunities and this is often the best way of organising a year abroad. Accommodation and other matters can often be sorted out by one agency in this type of case, simplifying the process considerably. They can also offer useful advice on matters such as insurance or medical requirements.
You should always choose a project in a place that you will think that you will like living in. If you struggle in hot or humid weather, or have health conditions that could be triggered by conditions like this, consider heading somewhere cooler. Remember that you will be spending a year living and working somewhere that is a long way from home. Being somewhere where you can feel properly healthy and interested is very important.
The type of project is also crucial to the success of your gap year abroad. Working as an educator, for example, may sound appealing, but often requires professional skills that you may not have. If you have animal allergies, stay away from projects that involve animals. Choose something that suits your skills and aptitudes, rather than just something which looks like it might be fun, or that someone else tells you is really worth doing. Take advice from people who have actually done something similar successfully, rather than from those who might think that they know best.
Prepare For A Challenge.
The other thing to remember about a year spent as a volunteer abroad is that there will be tough times. There will be occasions when you wonder why you bothered and wish you were at home. Anyone who tells you differently has never been away from home for a long time doing something that could be very challenging. It does not mean that you are weak or incapable if you feel like this, it happens to everyone. However, it is important to realise that this challenge, this kind of hardship, is part of what makes a year spent as a volunteer such a wonderful opportunity for personal growth and learning. No one ever learned anything worthwhile by being comfortable and content and if you are mentally prepared for the hardships, then they are a positive thing.
So, absorb the challenges and relish problems. When you have this kind of positive attitude you will find that the year works out much better for you. When you accept a gap year as something much more than a time-killing glorified holiday, then it might well be one of the most important things that ever happens in your life.
Spender Lovelock has spent much of his life organising volunteer projects in South East Asia. Now resident in Wombwell, near Barnsley, he continues to manage community work projects, only this time in Yorkshire. He uses his experiences to write about a range of matters relating to how to volunteer abroad and other travel and education issues for a range of blogs and websites.