Volunteer throughout the United States and the world.
Things to Consider
As you set goals and research volunteer programs there are many characteristics that are important to think before you decide what program is best for you.
Volunteer programs typically last a week to three months or more. Some programs, like Peace Corps, offer long-term placements of more than a year. Consider how long you can afford to be abroad without an income. Keep in mind any student loans you have. Also note that your visa may restrict the amount of time you can stay in a country.
Volunteer programs differ in the level of support provided and independence required. Consider how much instruction and support you need with: visa assistance, arrival, transportation to and from your volunteer site, and language translation. These are just some of the areas where the level of support on a program can vary.
Program fees can vary greatly. The amount often reflects the level of support and resources available to you before, during, and after the program. Ask what is included in the program free and what additional expenses you will pay out of pocket. Ask for a breakdown of how your program fee is used.
The articles below help explain what your program fee pays for and the differences between volunteering through a program provider versus working directly with a local organization.
Why Pay to Volunteer Abroad?
Why Should Volunteers Pay?
US-Based Program Provider vs. Local NGO
Program structure may impact the cost and level of support provided. Small, host-country based organizations may offer a deeper level of cultural and language immersion but might now have the staff and resources to provide quick responses to your inquiries. Additionally, you may be required to arrange your own housing and transportation with little or no support.
Volunteer placement programs based in the US may be easier to communicate with and can provide detailed information about the program before you arrive. They may also provide more structure and support before, during, and especially after the program. This type of program, however, may have a higher program fee.
You could work with other US volunteers to volunteers from around the world. More independent volunteers may want to work more with community members, which may or may not require language proficiency. As you investigate program options, be sure to inquire with whom you will be working.
Some volunteer programs offer homestays while others house volunteers together in a home, apartment, or hostel. Some short-term programs feature more rustic accommodation in a community center or school gymnasium. Your housing option may affect the level of language and cultural immersion on your program.
Health Related Volunteer Programs
If you are interested in a health-related volunteer programs, complete the Global Ambassadors for Patient Safety (GAPS) online module before researching program options. This module will help:
- Prepare for you experience abroad
- Use your experience abroad to make a positive impact on your health program application
- Consider the legal and ethical boundaries that should guide your activities while abroad
- Understand your own limitations as an unlicensed student
There are innumerable organizations dedicated to coordinating volunteer abroad experiences. Here is a short list:
Common Hope- Common Hope promotes hope and opportunity in Guatemala, partnering with children, families, and communities who want to participate in a process of development to improve their lives through education, health care, and housing.
Cross-Cultural Solutions - Operates volunteer programs in Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Peru, Russia, Tanzania, and Thailand. The volunteer programs are designed to facilitate hands-on service and cultural exchange in order to create cultural understanding.
Earthwatch Institute- Earthwatch Institute's mission is to promote sustainable conservation of our natural resources and cultural heritage by creating partnerships between scientists, educators and the general public.
Global Volunteers- Provides volunteer opportunities in Africa, Asia, Australia, the Caribbean, Europe, North America, South America and the South Pacific. Volunteers work on development projects to help communities become self-reliant.
World Endeavors- Our volunteer programs are designed to make a difference in local communities and in the lives of our volunteers. Through village-based volunteer programs and volunteer camps, volunteers promote mutual friendship, world peace, and solidarity in addition to enriching their own experience and making a meaningful contribution.
Volunteer in Bolivia at the Unidad Academica Campesina-Carmen Pampa
The UAC-CP is dedicated to making higher education available to young Bolivians with talent and ambition but with few economic resources, from throughout the department of La Paz.
Through programs that address the most pressing concerns of rural people-health, education, the environment and income-generation-UAC-CP gives young Bolivians the tools to become leaders in the development of their own communities.
There are many ways that volunteers contribute to the UAC-CP. Acceptance to the UAC-CP's volunteer program is based on an individual and on-going basis. For more information, please click here to go to the volunteer website.
Articles and books for reference
Work Your Way Around the World by Susan Griffith - Want to travel the globe but worried about money? This book can help you figure out a way to see what you want and support yourself along the way. A copy is available for consultation in the Office of Global Studies.
The Global Citizen by Elizabeth Kruempelmann- A guide to creating an international life and career for students, professionals, retirees and families. Written by an American expatriate living in Europe, Kruempelmann gives you ideas and exercises to get to know yourself and what you are looking for. The book lists countless resources and websites to help you plan your future.
Maximizing Study Abroad A students' guide to strategies for language and culture learning and use. This flexible guide provides specific strategies for improving your language and culture learning so your time spent abroad will be as meaningful and productive as you hope. A copy is available for consultation in the Office of Global Studies.
University of Michigan Overseas Opportunities Website - Arguably the most comprehensive collection of resources for students wanting to find opportunities abroad. This is the ultimate online resource for whatever you want to do.
*A special thank you and recognition to Sarah Tschida and the University of MN for help in compiling this information.