Volunteer in Russia
Take Time to Help Others and Have Fun
Russia is a relatively cheap place to live outside of the major cities. My monthly budget in Irkutsk is $500, and I ski and eat out a lot. This makes it financially quite feasible to be a volunteer, even over a long period of time. Not only is it feasible, it’s a really good idea.
As a student in St. Petersburg, I had a wonderful host family. Otherwise, I found it very difficult to meet Russians, a frustration shared by nearly every other student.
Contrast this with my volunteer experience: When I came to Irkutsk to volunteer at the Great Baikal Trail Association, my "boss" met me at the train station and put me up for a week with her friends. Within literally hours, I had a circle of friends inviting me on hiking trips, advising me on buying skis, and inviting me to parties. To this day, I have met every one of my friends through my volunteer job. I have been on numerous ski trips, attended a wedding, hosted a New Year’s Party (the most important Russian holiday) that lasted almost 24 hours, and threw a bachelor’s party—in short, I’ve done all those things I wanted to do as a student.
Just as important: in Russia, everything is done through contacts. Arriving in Russia with a set of contacts (your workplace) can make a crucial difference between floundering miserably and having a wonderful time. My friends helped me find an apartment, get an encephalitis vaccine (necessary in most of Siberia), register my visa, buy skis, and set up a trip to Mongolia—most of which I could not have done alone.
All this, and I get to do important work. After years of being a student and being essentially focused on myself, it’s nice to have a year set aside to spend my days helping others—and Russia is a great place to do that. It has more protected land and nature parks than any country in the world by a large margin, so there is no shortage of environmental work. Russia also has a depressingly large orphan population, and physical disabilities are also distressingly common. There is no shortage of need, though a shortage of known organizations.