Jun 15, 7 years ago

Design Your Own Study Abroad by Volunteering!

http://blog.ailolalatino.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/raza.jpgDesign Your Own Study Abroad by Volunteering!

Do you regret not taking the opportunity to study abroad when you had the chance in college? Many people feel like they missed out on a structured semester abroad with cultural, language, and community exchange. This would have been a real window of opportunity for personal growth and cultural exploration.

Turns out, your window is not closed! Your options now are larger, cheaper, and will look great on your resume. You can spend as much time as you want in this new life opening. It´s called, volunteering.


Volunteering abroad can be challenging to navigate, but with a little extra time on the web, you can find what you are looking for. A great place to start your search is on websites like idealist.org or dosomething.org, which work to connect people and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or non-profit organizations. Knowing a location or type of work you would like to do can significantly help your search. For example, if you know you want to learn Spanish in a home-stay, teach English to primary students and live in Bolivia, you can find information quickly. If you don’t like these options, going broader from there can help you find more similar opportunities, maybe in Peru or Ecuador.

The challenge is, we don´t always know what we want. Not to worry, not knowing can also be in your favor when searching for opportunities abroad. By keeping your search open, you can come across a fit you could not have designed. Having an open mind is important.


I tend to steer clear of volunteer opportunities that charge, but several of these programs have a lot to offer. For example, programs like ciee.org can help place you in the exact environment you are looking for, take care of all the logistics of paperwork, and provide you the support to ensure your travel and volunteering is comfortable. Additionally, you often can start these programs in a cohort, which can give you support and friends along your journey.

With that said, if you’re willing to look, you should be able to find what you are searching for free of charge. The beauty of volunteering is it allows you to do something different, so your lack of qualifications for positions can be easily replaced by your enthusiasm to help. Many organizations are in dire need of extra hands and native English speakers. You might not be paid, but you shouldn’t have to pay either.


Everything depends on you. You can find an opportunity a year from now, or next month. The first step is researching. Then contacting the program or organization.

Keep in mind, developing countries are dubbed developing for a reason, and responses can be considered ‘slow’ in our fast-paced society. Depending on how grassroots an organization is, you might have to wait for a week or two to get a response. Try not to take this personally.

A volunteer playing with studentsBenefits:

Remember, people everywhere rich and poor need help. Not only does it feel good to ‘do your part’ but also the rewards of volunteering are endless. Beyond achieving a global mind-set and learning about yourself, complete immersion into another country will give you fluency of another language and a real understanding of another culture. Learn something new and don’t forget to have fun!

The best things you can do are to be honest with yourself and really understand what you are hoping to get out of your experience. Whether you want to lead backpacking trips in Guatemala, build a garden in Colombia, or teach English at a community school in coastal Ecuador, the opportunities are there for you. Take a look!

Photos: Ryan Plantz


Ryan is a writer, photographer, and teacher living and volunteering throughout Latin America.

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  1. October 23, 2012
    This is a tough one, when I went to volunteer in Nicaragua my whole failmy thought I was crazy. "You want to go WHERE and VOLUNTEER for FOUR weeks?! WHY?!?" I didn't go to them for approval. And really, you don't need any approval but from God. There are many many many people who don't understand why you are doing what you are doing and don't understand the need for international volunteers. You have been called to do this and your mother may not understand this until you return from your trip, hopefully.There is a critical need for mission work in poor countries and not everyone has the opportunity to see what poverty really is. America is not reality, you need to experience it first hand. There needs to be more people like you in this world!You have been called to do this, you may not win everyone over, but it's okay because it's YOU not them. Please go on this trip and have an amazing time!
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