Moving up from high school to college or university means making big changes. Suddenly, students have to take more responsibility for their own lives. Often they live independently away from home and have to complete their schoolwork without the encouragement and support of a watchful parent or teacher. In recent years, it has become something of a tradition to take a break between these two stages of study – called a gap year – during which many students find employment, travel to other parts of the globe or dedicate their time to volunteering.
One of the great benefits of volunteering is that in addition to providing help and support for other people, it also allows volunteers to experience a different world, particularly if volunteering abroad, and to gain new perspectives on their personal principles and values. In essence, the experience of living and working in another cultural environment enables a student to gain a better understanding of today’s complex world and reinforces the fact that sometimes very basic levels of assistance and support can make an important and significant difference to relatively disadvantaged communities.
Traveling abroad is a bonus for those who choose to volunteer; it can also give individuals a chance to learn a new language or skill. With a little bit of advance research, it’s easy to find the cheapest flights to these new destinations. There are different types of volunteer projects in different locations and lots of good causes to choose from.
Conservation projects, for example, are increasingly popular as environmental concerns become a growing concern across the globe. Often these projects involve scientific research, including environmental monitoring and data collection and analysis. Volunteers can help protect endangered animals and plant life and also educate people about key issues in conservation.
Teaching projects require clear communication and patience; the ability to teach English is a much sought after skill in the developing world. Volunteers involved in teaching find that they can actively help disadvantaged children and adults, as learning English may provide a lifeline for communities aiming to achieve a better future. In the same way, sports coaching can provide a welcome respite for underprivileged people struggling to survive in dire circumstances.
Building projects are one of the most rewarding experiences, since volunteers helping to build new homes for people in need of shelter share the excitement of completing the work with local families. This is an immensely satisfying achievement for everyone involved.
Where to go
There are opportunities for volunteering during a gap year in locations all over the world. Both Africa and Asia are popular with students who are interested in wildlife protection, community work and teaching. Australasia also has many conservation projects. Volunteers can help protect Latin America’s rain forests and aid locals through a variety of community development and teaching projects.
Volunteering abroad may be one of the most inspiring, educational and exciting things a gap year student can choose to do. Despite the kinds of challenges some people encounter, most volunteers love living and working in a different community. Giving their time and energy to a good cause brings great rewards and has an enriching effect that lasts for a long time after returning home.
photo credit: gooverseas