Why work for free
By: Eric Tiettmeyer (justin) 2012.04.01
TOURS/ITINERARIES WHILE YOU VOLUNTEER OVERSEAS!
Working with a variety of organizations in 7 countries, BaseCamp offers tailored volunteer training and mutually benefiting placements. Volunteers work in schools, social and healthcare programs, building projects, as well as conservation work with wildlife. Travel with a purpose.
Why would you ever work for free? It seems everyone who has, loved it. Is it for you, and if
so, what should you do?
The thought of working for free in another country seems to surprise
many college students who are asked about it. "Why volunteer abroad,"
they ask, "when I can easily get a paid job?" That is easier said
than done, of course. Although a paid job abroad can be an excellent
way to fund an extended travel excursion as well as gain professional
experience, it also requires significant effort to land such a job.
Researching positions, sending resumes, and hardest of all, figuring
out international hiring laws and regulations make a job search abroad
very difficult. In Europe, for example, members of the European Union
are given preference when applying for a job, making an applicant
from the U.S. fight an uphill battle. People interested in working
abroad often turn to volunteering instead of searching for paid positions.
While many people envision volunteering abroad as working two years
in a developing country on basic necessities, there are a variety
of alternatives and opportunities worldwide to fit any person's motivations.
Volunteers circumvent the difficult legal battles and paperwork hassles
of permanent hires by going through volunteer organizations that have
already established ties with host countries. Opportunities exist
to enhance your professional skills while volunteering, much like
an internship. Volunteers usually have flexible schedules that allow
personal exploration of a region. Volunteers feel it is one of the
best ways to interact with a community in an environment where one
feels they are making a difference. Probably the single most powerful
aspect of volunteering is that while one does not get paid in cash
for work, experience and satisfaction never have poor exchange rates.
The reasons for working abroad in a paid or unpaid opportunity
vary from person to person. However, for the most part, a large motivation
is to incorporate a love of travel. According to Ron Krannich, author
of Jobs for People Who Love to Travel "Rather than seek just any job,
they want jobs that enable them to pursue a unique and enjoyable lifestyle
where travel plays a central role." With that in mind, the motivations
to go abroad should not land someone in a full-time job without the
flexibility to travel. Clearly though, the choice to volunteer abroad
is more complicated than that. Below are five motivations and advantages
to volunteering abroad.
1. Helping out. The desire to help other people in an immediate,
hands-on experience is the root from which all volunteer efforts grow.
2. Flexible schedules. Because many students work abroad as
an excuse to travel the world, volunteering usually offers more flexibility.
Paid jobs abroad are not much different than in the U.S.- 40 hours,
5 days a week. For the avid traveler, this puts a damper on expected
3. Integrating with the local culture. Volunteer opportunities
offer unique experiences in working with local residents. Whether
the volunteer position is in a humanitarian environment or not, you
are likely to work with a diverse group during your stay. According
to Sunil Oommen, formerly of Cross Cultural Solutions, "Volunteering
is about learning culture sensitivity and learning other cultures.
You discover the true treasures, which are the people." In addition,
volunteering abroad opens a unique window on your own culture and
challenges the way you'll see it upon returning.
When faced with no first-world luxuries such as running water, electricity,
most people come to appreciate what they have at home. However, one
also comes to appreciate the sophistication and education locals have,
which begins to erase stereotypes. According to Kate Shackword, of
Operation Crossroads Africa, volunteering makes people "look
at the roots of their miseducation."
4. Easy placement/paperwork. Volunteer organizations are
likely to place you in a safer, more organized opportunity than what
you may find searching for a paid job or volunteering on your own.
Because they take care of all the placement, it's easier for the volunteer
to adapt to a new culture rather than deal with the bureaucracy and
politics of working abroad.
5. Volunteering pays, sort of. Volunteer organizations, usually
acting as non-profit organizations, do charge participant fees to
go abroad. This often confounds a potential volunteer who holds the
attitude, "I'm working for free already, why should I pay?" But if
one looks at the overall costs for travelling abroad, as well as the
services, connections and opportunities offered, volunteering fees
may be worth their weight in gold (or rupees, baht, or birr). Global
Service Corps, a non profit organization that offers volunteer
abroad opportunities from two weeks to one year in Costa Rica, Thailand,
and Kenya, breaks down how participant fees are spent. According to
their brochure, 40% of costs go to field expenses, including pre-trip
preparation, hotels and homestays, excursions, food and transportation.
Another 36% percent goes to both processing applications and material
and expanding and improving the programs. And finally 24% is used
for administrative tasks and marketing tasks. Reputable organizations
such as Global Service Corps, who break down where your money goes,
distinguish themselves from the rare programs trying to make a quick
buck off alternative tourists.
Be sure to ask any volunteer organization their breakdown for costs,
especially field expenses for sending you abroad. Use this percentage
for field expenses to calculate how much it will cost you to travel
on your own. Using a guidebook for that area, calculate how much it
would cost for you to find your own accommodations, food, and excursions
if you went without the organization. Often, prices are comparable
because the organizations arrange special fares you wouldn't have
access too. Most importantly, take into account the fact that you
are paying for thier services as an organizer - you'd be hard pressed
to find that job helping a Kenyan carpenter if you were looking on
The Two Camps
In most scenarios, volunteering abroad means offering a humanitarian
service in a developing country. Volunteers are usually placed in
either a work camp or a community service-oriented position. Most
volunteer positions are in developing countries, but even in first-world
countries, local hotels, restaurants and service organizations are
looking for foreigners to add some international flavor to the establishment.
They exchange room and board for work.
In work camps, participants take part in construction, landscaping,
or irrigation. According to Shackword these work camps are easily
defined, start and end with the same group, and usually include shorter
work days. A drawback to work camps is that they are often held in
locations that are dangerous or difficult for the unprepared volunteer.
However, harsh physical locations and tough manual labor are the challenges
that make work camps rewarding. The nature of the work sometimes becomes
monotonous, working on the same project for an extended period, but
as all work camps point out, this isn't a vacation. It's hard work,
for a good reason. If you're looking for a vacation, you shouldn't
be volunteering anyway.
Community service includes volunteer work in education, health and
nutrition, and urban development. In addition to working with individuals
and helping a community, there seems to be more flexibility in these
opportunities. However, in these programs, volunteers are usually
thrown into an ongoing project, so while trying to adapt to a completely
new culture, these volunteers must also quickly learn their responsibilities.
Dispelling Rumors about the Peace Corps
The U.S. government run Peace Corps is probably the most diverse and
largest volunteer organization in the world. Besides job diversity,
a long history, no fees, and a large support network, Peace Corps
offers a $6,000 readjustment stipend after volunteers complete their
service. Participants with a bachelor's degree are encouraged to apply
for opportunities in agriculture, education, health and nutrition,
community service, and urban youth development. Yet the Peace Corps,
and other volunteer groups for that matter, have been criticized that
the locals can do fine without the help of their organization, and
that volunteering abroad is simply an ego booster for the volunteers
themselves. In Jobs for People Who Love to Travel, Ron Krannich mentions
that "for many people, development work becomes more of a personal
ego trip than one of concrete long-term accomplishments." Not so,
says Peace Corps spokesperson Dana Topousis. According to Topousis,
Peace Corps recruits go only where the need is, and this need is specifically
requested by a village/town leader to the Peace Corps. Topousis adds
that usually only one volunteer is sent to each community for a period
of two years. Volunteering is an intense experience wherever you go,
and with whichever program. It's important to find a program whose
philosophy towards volunteering matches your own.