7 Reasons Volunteering Abroad Will Change Your Life

Volunteering abroad is one of the best ways to continue seeing the world after your study abroad adventure, especially if you can find an organization that will pay for your expenses on the ground during your project. Volunteering has helped me travel to 11 different countries and experience real immersion in them.

1. Discover a New Passion

I traveled to Negril, Jamaica my sophomore year of college on an Alternative Spring Break (ASB) trip with a group from the University of Oregon. We built a cafeteria at an elementary school in the slums outside the city. Before the trip, I had lofty dreams of pursuing a graduate degree and working for the World Bank or another high profile NGO. However, I met university professionals whose career paths intrigued and inspired me. The extracurricular parts of college often are just as important as the academics in terms of helping students form their identities. I saw my fellow classmates and volunteers discover their potential through experiencing a new culture and suddenly realized that is where my career path should lead. Now, I plan on pursuing a Master’s in Higher Education to help others create amazing memories like mine.

2. Take a Quantum Leap Out of Your Comfort Zone

Diving head first into the unknown is a beautiful, scary, and ultimately liberating experience. A few months before my departure, my project assignment was switched to another country! They wanted to send me to Nicaragua for two months and leave the U.S. just three days after my high school graduation. At that point, I knew nothing about Nicaragua except that it’s the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti (not the most comforting of facts). I immediately feared what it would be like to live with running water, electricity, or plumbing for two months. With very little knowledge of what I was getting into, I simply said, “Yes!” Sometimes you just have to go for it.

3. Take a Needed Break From Our Technology Obsessed Culture

As part of a generation consumed by the number of Twitter followers they have, likes on Facebook they receive, and who posts the prettiest pictures on Instagram, relinquishing my smart phone and Internet access taught me how to appreciate the moment and the people around me.

4. Learn How to Lose Control

Discovering that I lost my passport and all my money 36 hours before catching a flight back to California from Nicaragua sent me into a frenzied panic. From the mountain community where I was building a school, to my emergency trip to the U.S. Embassy in Managua, I came face to face with how little control I had over the situation. After the panic, came a calming acceptance of my circumstances. Every volunteer experience will inevitably have a moment like this, where there is literally nothing you can do to change what’s happening.

5. Find Joy in Simple Moments

Deciding to put down my smartphone and limit time online opened up time to explore the neighborhood, read books for fun, teach my host family how to play Uno, and expose them to the American cultural wonder that is peanut butter. Our hard-wired, Internet-addicted society can take away from our time for activities like these.

6. Become a More Confident Person

Teaching sex education classes as a 17-year-old in Uruguay while my students laughed at my super gringa accent me made me feel like I could honestly do anything. I’ve never felt so embarrassed or more incapable than I did that summer. However, it was only by repeatedly doing something that I thought I couldn’t do, did I learn to believe in myself.

7. Distinguish the Difference Between Being Alone and Feeling Lonely

International volunteer placements often include a time when volunteers feel like no one understands them. They are left with no way to get their point across because of language barriers, homesickness, or cultural differences. They may feel lonely, but being alone can be a good opportunity for reflection. Spending time alone in another country taught me a crucial lesson of young adulthood, which is how to like being alone instead of running from silence.

Antonia-DimichaielAuthor: Antonia Dimichael

Antonia DeMichiel graduated from the University of Oregon in June 2013 with a Bachelor’s in International Studies. She studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina with SIT/World Learning for the Spring 2012 semester. She is currently living in Santiago, Chile with Jesuit Volunteer Corps for the next two years, serving as the Volunteer Coordinator at Jesuit Migrant and Refugee Services.

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