5 reasonable expectations from “doing good” while volunteering overseas

“Doing good” in whatever form it may take, can be done in many different ways. It can be a small act of kindness or a moment of help to someone in need, a smile and helping hand for those who struggle, supporting a cause close to your heart financially - but it can also mean you have bigger plans of action to make a difference beyond that moment of kindness.

Most of us want to do good where we can, and if you find yourself in the situation of wanting to do more for those in need in this world - either at home in your own community, church or sports club or possibly abroad when participating in a service learning program or volunteering experience - it’s a good idea to ask yourself the big question; why am I doing this and what do I expect to get out of it?

Many people will quickly answer this question: “I don’t want anything in return for my efforts or support.” Realistically, however, when you really look deep enough, everyone wants something in return. It could be that you only expect the feeling of positivity and sharing that makes you a happier person, it could be the feeling of belonging to something bigger, or even personal recognition and appreciation or self-development. We all want something in return, however small it is, even if it is just the feel-good factor we are after!

When participating in an organized volunteering experience overseas it’s important to recognize your expectations as an important part of your preparations - and something to keep in mind while being in Africa. It’s important NOT just because you are entitled to expect something in return, but also because your expectations - however high or low they might be - will be a huge part of the success of your travel experience.

Most volunteering programs are paid programs where you cover the costs for coordinating, organizing your stay, accommodation, meals, transport, donation to the project of choice and much more. Paying for anything in this world creates an expectation to get something in return, and volunteering overseas is no different from any other thing you might want to pay for.

Having realistic expectations can be a challenge if you have not prepared yourself properly, and I strongly advise any prospective volunteer or intern to consider these aspects to align your expectations with the experience. This is a great article from Huffington Post on the pros and cons of volunteering overseas, to help you make up your mind!

Let’s take a look at a few of the expectations volunteers or interns overseas can reasonably have.

1. Volunteering for self-development and learning

Volunteering overseas will most probably give you growth in your personal development. You will be able to improve on your English skills (or isiXhosa skills if you're volunteering in South Africa). You'll learn how to share a house with 10 other students or volunteers. You might learn how to cook something new or deal with challenging circumstances. You might learn how to teach youth without speaking their language, or how to keep a rowdy crowd of 100 children in line. All are potentially valuable lessons that, for some, will stay with them for a lifetime.

Your experience might make you reconsider your thoughts about what’s really important in life, you might have a different view of your chosen study path, or will meet new people that will change your life forever. You would not be the first person who will make new friendships for life or even come home with wedding plans! What you can certainly expect is that it will be an experience that gives you very valuable lessons in life and add value to your personal growth as a person.

2. Volunteering for personal recognition

Some people might volunteer partly for more personal reasons. You might want to show how giving, adventurous and ambitious you are - and that’s perfectly fine, IF you have the right expectations. Sharing your experiences on social media is a great way of sharing your ups and downs and showing those at home what you are going through. Some will go as far as contacting their local newspaper to publish an article about what they intend to do and create awareness for their cause of choice.

Creating personal recognition can be a great way of encouraging others to think out of the box, and to be inspired by your adventures. It can actually help showcase the chosen project and have a ripple effect, where more people know about this project or challenge in a developing country. You can certainly expect that those you share your experiences with will be impressed by your willingness to make a big decision, be able to fund it yourself, and have a possibly life-changing experience. For tips on how to fund this experience, check out this article.

3. Volunteering as a break from normal life

You might have had a tough time, some challenges at home or work - and a volunteering experience provides an escape from everyday life, just like any trip or travel opportunity. Taking a gap year or career break are very healthy ways to take some time out, and think about what you want to do with your life. It forces you to step out of your comfort zone and not only go to a new country, speak a different language and put in time and effort to support your chosen project - but also to work with people from different backgrounds, nationalities and beliefs. You can expect to have an experience totally different from your normal life, and that you’ll walk away with fond memories to last a lifetime.

4. Volunteering to have a different purpose for travel

You might have seen it all, traveled the world extensively already, and now feel that just seeing places during your travels has lost its charm. You’re looking for a way to travel where you can meet, experience, and feel a country and its people - and volunteering is a great way to do this. Your purpose during volunteer travel is to have less places to tick off but more real experiences to add to your life. Volunteering is a great way of traveling with a purpose, and you can expect that you will meet people from many walks of life and backgrounds, and that you will experience the challenges of a community or country that you won’t see as a tourist. This way of traveling can actually be so much more rewarding then just snapping that picture and moving on!

5. Expectations for the volunteer service provider

You paid for a program and should be able to expect quite a lot for your payment - after all you are financially contributing towards your stay and everything you need during your stay. You can expect to be picked up upon arrival, to be given a proper introduction, to be supervised and assisted during your stay, to be fed and housed properly and to have an organization that is clear about where your funds go. You can expect that your chosen provider is properly insured, has well-maintained vehicles, and staff that is qualified to do their job.

Working with interns and volunteers over the last 12 years has showed me many different motivators for people to join an internship program or overseas volunteering program, for whatever length of time. Take a look at the history of Khaya Volunteer Projects to find out more about us.

Expectations of volunteers or interns in South Africa can be far and wide. What I’ve learned is that those who have clear and realistic expectations thrive during their stay, and have the most rewarding experiences. Unfortunately I have learned as well that those who don’t have realistic and reasonable expectations struggle at times, and lose valuable energy and time in getting their expectations right.

So whatever it is you expect when doing good by volunteering abroad - be open to change, plan to adapt where needed, and make this amazing opportunity count in ways that are important to you!

See you in Africa




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