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Gap Year Volunteering

You may be considering a volunteer project abroad, but perhaps are not completely sure this is the right way to spend some of your gap year.

Here we outline the benefits of taking on a volunteer role, along with some things you should consider when applying so you will hopefully choose the project best suited to you.

  • A volunteer placement abroad can be a very rewarding way to spend all or part of your gap year and gives you the opportunity to make lifelong friends, along with some wonderful memories and a new perspective on the world.
  • By taking part in an organised voluntary work project you can learn about a different culture, meet new people and learn to communicate with those who speak a different language and lead a very different life from your own.
  • You may find yourself working with people who live in poverty, surrounded by disease, and frequently hungry. You will hopefully return with a great sense of achievement and pride in what you have done for a local community.
  • Career breakers have also found that a volunteer placement has not only been a satisfying experience but has given them new ideas about their future career direction.

What type of volunteer project should I do?

Only you can decide what’s most important to you: if you’re into plants, animals or the environment, you’d probably be happier on a conservation or wildlife sanctuary project.

If you enjoy helping and interacting with people, perhaps you’d rather do something with disadvantaged or disabled children and adults.

Whichever you feel is most suited for you, there’s a huge choice of companies and types of voluntary placement to choose from.

Your decision will be easier if you have a career path in mind - for example, if you are going to study Medicine you may want to do a medical project.

Your experience will also look great on your CV to potential employers when you start looking for jobs at the end of your degree.

Participant competition for volunteer projects

More and more people are becoming motivated to go out and do something as the news media daily report on poverty in the developing world and various global threats to the earth’s climate, wildlife and environment.

This is making competition for places tougher, so don't be surprised if you are asked to attend an interview to prove that you should be chosen to go before they take your money!

With increasing interest in volunteering abroad, gap year agencies can afford to be more picky about who they send on their projects.

This may seem rather unfair, but they have a reason: non-governmental organisations and volunteers are increasingly trying to make sure both sides benefit from the experience, so volunteer companies put a lot of effort into vetting applicants and briefing them before they go.

This is as well as making sure you get out there, with sufficient host country programme support and get the best experience out of your placement.

Important note before booking a volunteer Gap year placement

Keep in mind that voluntary work can be tough, both physically and mentally, and that if you decide you can’t hack it, both you and the person who would have been chosen instead of you had you not applied, will lose out.

Research all projects you are considering thoroughly, and if you're not sure whether you would cope, contact the agencies to get more details of exactly how demanding it will be, and how previous participants fared.

It's important you choose your project carefully, otherwise you could end up wasting valuable time and money you could have spent on doing something you would actually enjoy.