Volunteering Abroad has become increasingly popular over the last decade or so. More and more people are adding it to their gap year itinerary, and most people genuinely have the best intentions of hoping to give back to the world and to those less fortunate than themselves. But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows and speaking from my own experience volunteering abroad, I plan to address here some pros and cons I have found.

Pro: Integration

Firstly volunteering is a wonderful way to be integrated into a new country and culture. As we all know, holidays and backpacking from place to place are both great options for a fun adventure, but if you want a genuine first-hand experience of the country/countries you are visiting, other than moving there, then volunteering is the best way to get integrated. This is because you are there for a longer duration and you usually will be volunteering somewhere that is slightly away from the tourist created highlights and further into real and raw civilisation.

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Pro: Independence

Volunteering abroad is a great use of your free time if you have it. It gives you something new and challenging to do whilst taking you completely out of your comfort zone and throwing you headfirst into the deep end. If you can survive this experience in the unfamiliar, then you can survive anything. Your confidence and independence with go sky high and you may benefit from the life lessons gained by volunteering for the rest of your life.

Pro: Friendships

By volunteering abroad you will make friends from all other the world and make bonds like no other. If there is any real way to learn about the world and what it is truly like, then it is most definitely done via first-hand experiences and conversations with others who live it daily. A volunteer placement usually brings together recruits across the globe as well so your pool of knowledge could be even further afield than the country you are staying in. No doubt your next travel adventure may result in having a volunteer friend to catch up with and a sofa to crash on.

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Con: Exhausting

If you’re doing it right, volunteering is hard and it will drain you at times, but that is exactly what you are after, right? Some days you will feel homesick like crazy or just want to throw the towel in. That’s because it pushes you as an individual, tests your limits and forces you to adapt. The outcome will change you as a person and all your values. Not to sound cliche but if you allow new experiences and new perspectives in this environment to challenge you then it will be the greatest change of your life.

Con: The scams

Volunteer recruit websites are money-grabbing, malicious things. Obviously some may be the exception but from what I’ve experienced and what I’ve heard repeatedly from others, the sites rip you off. If you pay £250 just to be a member of a site and to have access to potential charities then the chances are £200 will go to the site and only £50 to the charity. The best way to get involved therefore is via the specific charities website. Go directly and cut out the middle man even if you have to do a bit more research. I get business is business but it’s a new low when sites are scamming charity funds.

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Con: More scams

It’s not just volunteering recruitment sites that you need to be wary of but actual charities, orphanages and even some organisations. Sadly, because of how popular volunteering abroad has become, it has attracted some ill-meaning people who only want to get rich of the newly minted business of sending people from Western countries to poor regions of the globe. Our eagerness to do good and contribute to the world has been corrupted because it can turn a very sought-after dark profit. Do your research and do it thoroughly, communicate with the charity directly and suss it out from what others say online. If you sense something is wrong at all, then please don’t give them a penny because what they make from you could be turned into suffering for the people you wanted to come and help.

Find out more about the dark side of voluntourism and what else to check for with Kayley Gould’s TEDxLAHS here