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Work as a Volunteer Travel Adviser

Growing Industry of Volunteering Abroad Requires Support Staff

Walking down the dirt road in La Victoria, Dominican Republic you wouldn’t know how to find the school if you hadn’t already been there. The dark classroom is lit by open-air windows and occupies the front room of the English teacher’s modest 2-room house. Small desks crowd the room and face the front wall chalk board reading, “Hello, how are you?” Twelve antsy teenagers laugh and talk while they wait for me, their volunteer English teacher.

Evolving from these individual experiences is the rapidly growing industry of volunteering abroad. In order to make international volunteer opportunities more available to the public, companies and agencies hire people to advise potential volunteers on which projects would be best-suited for their capabilities and interests. My experiences in Spain, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and the U.K. led me to a career as volunteer travel adviser.

Most people who call or email me at Volunteer Adventures already have a genuine interest in volunteering overseas, but they simply need guidance on where to go, how, and when. I help potential volunteers decide what program is right for them. Often they also need reassurance about what they are planning to do. Although altruism is an admirable motivation, many people have a hard time justifying spending money to volunteer abroad. I help explain the necessity of certain costs to support the nonprofit organizations we work with, what the overall costs will be, and what is specifically included in the program.

As people prepare to volunteer abroad, sometimes they call me with safety concerns. Many projects that need help are in areas in which volunteers may initially feel insecure. My job is not only to reassure them about the quality of our programs, but also to prepare them for traveling abroad alone and to parts of the world so different from America. When we send volunteers around the world we advise them to take the time to educate themselves on where they are going and give them a checklist outlining what to expect.

Every day I speak to people who have a wide range of goals: to learn a language, to live abroad, to meet new people. All of them, however, have the same initial thought: to help others. After they have chosen their program, they sign up either online or with me on the phone or in person. They have complete access to me while planning their trips, and I usually hear from them up until the day they depart. After this, their direct contact is the on-site coordinator of the nonprofit organization with which they will be working. By keeping in touch with both the volunteer throughout the registration process and with the on-site coordinator during the volunteer’s experience, we can coordinate the best way to make volunteering abroad a positive experience for the volunteers and the organizations with which we work.

Getting Started

Volunteer organizations are springing up everywhere. If you have international experience, you may be vital to a study abroad or volunteer abroad company’s success. Don’t be afraid to let the organization know what you are capable of and what your long-term goals are.

Because volunteering is a rapidly developing industry, companies are often in need of people with various skill sets, including IT, business, marketing, translation, and international relations. You may land a position that requires any number of the following: arranging logistics such as lodging, meals, and transportation; orientation, project training, and support on-site; organizing excursions and activities; serving as a liaison between the volunteer communities and your home office, etc. These positions can turn into the opportunity to run volunteer programs in developing countries all over the world.

Working as a volunteer travel adviser has given me the opportunity to go places that a normal office job would not allow, such as visiting our volunteer programs in Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. I have also had the opportunity to visit college campuses for study and work abroad fairs in order to expose students to the vast possibilities of studying and volunteering abroad. In addition to all these exciting experiences, I have had the good fortune to meet complete strangers from around the globe who share their dream with me: to give their time and resources to disadvantaged communities.

To find a volunteer travel or similar position you need to research the industry and find specific companies that you want to work for. Each is distinct and usually you need to be willing to change locations, as most companies hire locally. Three good places to begin your search are: GoAbroad.com, Idealist.org, and NAFSA: Association of International Educators (www.nafsa.org).

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