Want to Volunteer Abroad? Read this first…

Claire Bennett's picture

The many ways that volunteering abroad can be harmful are being exposed in the media with increasing frequency. At Learning Service, we are often inundated with requests to help potential volunteers find an ethical placement, where they can be sure that their effort would make a positive impact. Unfortunately, there are too many volunteer organizations across the world, springing up too rapidly, for us to make definitive statements on which ones are better or worse than others. We also cannot tell you if overseas volunteering would be a good fit for you, as ultimately only you can know that. And we cannot propose a formula where you put your skills and expectations in one end and a tailor-made volunteer opportunity comes out the other end.

 Want to Volunteer Abroad? Read this first…

However, our new book, Learning Service: The Essential Guide to Volunteering Abroad, provides guidance and suggestions when it comes to making decisions about volunteer travel, global learning and taking action for change. It is packed full of stories, information and suggestions to ensure you:

Want to Volunteer Abroad? Read this first…

1. Ask the right questions

School has most likely trained you to want answers. The book helps you ask the right questions. That includes questions to ask about yourself. You might be able to answer some of the questions instantly and others may require much more thinking or research. Others may not have answers. Through this process of questioning, the book will help you be able to find the travel, volunteer or learning opportunity that is right for you, and be set on the right path for your future.

2. Bring the right attitudes and expect what is realistic

Many problems with volunteer travel are caused by volunteers with unrealistic expectations and attitudes that do not match the reality and requirements of the placement. The Learning Service book offers creative insights about how to realign your expectations and cultivate attitudes appropriate for volunteering. No matter how much research you do, you will never be able to know fully what your experience will be like until you get there. And although you cannot control all the details of what will happen when you volunteer, you can control your own responses. The book offers tips about how to do that, and thus maximize your effectiveness and get the best out of your experience.

3. Commit for the long term

By this we do not mean that you need to sign up for several years overseas. Instead what we refer to here is your commitment to making positive change in the world, through whatever means makes sense in your life. If you go overseas, you can do what you can to be effective, but there is no pressure to change the world just in the time you are there! Learn, absorb and think how it applies to your goals and plans for the rest of your life.

4. Meet your own goals

Your own learning is an essential part of the learning service model, so setting learning goals is important. Are you looking to learn more about development issues, improve your language skills, or cultivate patience? In the book, we help you articulate your goals and take ownership of them, making a strategy to meet them.

5. Have fun!

Although it is important to be aware of potential negative consequences and to be mindful of the wider impact of your actions, the ability to relax and have fun is also really important! Opening yourself up to an experience of immersion and exchange may be one of the most enjoyable, memorable and transformative experiences of your life. Learning Service offers ideas for how you might keep this on the agenda throughout your experience.


Want to help others? First you must be willing to learn. Learning Service: The Essential Guide to Volunteering Abroad, is available to purchase online and in bookshops worldwide. You can also find out more about Learning Service from their website: www.learningservice.info or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.


Claire Bennett lives and works in Kathmandu, where she owns a training company, works freelance as a consultant in development and education, and leads study abroad programs for teenagers. She is the co-author of Learning Service: The Essential Guide to Volunteering Abroad.