/ Nonprofits

Five Ways to Make the Most of Your Volunteer Gap Year

Although the idea of flying to so many cities and continents during a gap year sounds amazing, the cost of going abroad often keeps many students from going through it. What most students don’t realize is that they can often participate in abroad programs that pay for lodging. In exchange, these students positively contribute to the community by actively engaging in the program. Through this exchange, students are able to travel while making a positive impact to global communities.

By doing some research and by gaining meaningful connections, you can spend your gap year making a difference in the lives of many people without spending a ton of money on travel expenses. Though you will likely need to pay for your airfare and transportation fees, many organizations offer free housing and food in return for the good that you do for those around you. Here are some tips on finding a gap year volunteer program that works for you:

Leverage your passion

When you’re choosing a gap year experience, consider a cause or experience that you personally empathize with. That way, you can utilize your talents and knowledge to help others. For example, if you major in English or Communications, consider looking into family-based care. Not only will you be honing your communicative abilities, but you will also be able to see how your knowledge can help aspiring English speakers.

Find a legitimate organization

Try to be wary of organizations that having plenty of missing gaps in their expectations of you. Volunteers for Peace and United Planet are a great place to start in doing research for an organization that would suit you best. Started by two Stanford students, No Crap Gap Guides is also a wonderful resource to network and get advice from previous gap year volunteers who have been through the process from start to finish.

Know your limits

A gap year in an unfamiliar environment can be overwhelming, especially if it is your first time travelling abroad. Before you jet off to your destination, be sure to make reasonable accommodations for your time. Notably, try not to overcommit if you do not feel 100% certain of your decision to volunteer abroad. To gauge the kind of experience you are in for, read online reviews by others who also spent their gap year in the country that you are visiting. If you can, try to spend some time in the country beforehand. The more you are able to get a feel for the country, the more likely you will be able to help when you decide to volunteer there.

That being said, if you are able to spend more time volunteering, you will be able to make a more positive impact. According to Jaki Walker, head of global resourcing at Voluntary Service Overseas, giving yourself a four-to twelve-week commitment “allows enough time for you to integrate with the local community and deliver useful work.”

Take yourself and your work seriously

Though you might be at a travel destination, you should definitely treat your volunteer time as seriously as any other work you have. Remain genuinely curious and ask questions to understand the impact that your time is having on everyone around you. Also, communicate what you wish to get out of the experience with your organization. The clearer your goals are, the more likely you are to make a definite mark during your gap year.

Have a game plan

Just before you jet off to make your positive impact, remember to set yourself up for success by creating goals for yourself. Whether you have financial or personal goals for yourself, get creative with your plan! You might also want to set a budget for yourself so that you can focus more on giving back more than paying up.

If you’re still short on funds after drawing up a budget, consider starting a crowdfunding campaign on Givebutter. Outline what you will be doing, what your goals are, and how the donations you receive will help you make the most of your experience. Send the fundraiser link to friends and family so they can help support you on your journey!