Volunteering in your Gap Year
Take a step into the world of volunteering with this easy to read guide.
Whether it’s teaching English in Africa, helping to build a school in South America or even volunteering at your local charity, there’s a volunteering opportunity that will suit almost anyone. It’s a very popular option for graduates who are looking to take a gap year.
Before you choose to volunteer though (and give up your wonderfully valuable time and energy) there’s a few things to consider.
Why should you volunteer?
It’s a great addition to your CV
Volunteering is a great addition to any graduate CV. Paid work may be difficult to come by, so working for free can help you to improve your skills and show employers what you’re made of. Depending on the specific role that you’re considering, you might be required to demonstrate leadership, communication and team work.
Contacts are always invaluable, too. You’re likely to meet some influential people, and you never know what that might lead to. They might know about some fantastic paid opportunities that are coming up in the future that you could be just perfect for.
If you really impress while you’re volunteering, you could also get a great reference out of it.
You can make a difference
If a particular charity or cause is close to your heart, volunteering can give you a massive amount of personal satisfaction.
Knowing that you’ve contributed to making a difference is a very special feeling, and it might not be something that you have time for once you’re out in the world of full-time employment. Taking a gap year to volunteer can be your way to give something back to society and make yourself feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Get an insight into another country or culture
When you’re volunteering in another country, it’s likely that you’ll be living and working alongside the locals. This gives you the sort of access to a culture that you’d never get if you were just travelling.
You’re likely to learn much more about the way they do things and the lives they lead than you would from any guidebook or website. It’s also a great way to pick up some language skills, oui?.
What you need to know about volunteering abroad
Funding your trip
Money will probably be one of your main concerns as volunteering can set you back around £1500 for 1 month (everything included).
Even if you plan on working part-time alongside your volunteering, you’ll need to save up some cash to pay for the trip, cover emergencies and other general expenses such as insurance and food. Some organised volunteering programmes involve paying a weekly fee.
On the plus side, some schemes will include accommodation and meals. Do your research so you can budget accordingly. You might want to save money from your student loan or current job before you set off.
Look out for companies that offer you the chance to do some fundraising before your trip as if you hit your targets you can usually offset this against all of the costs.
You could also ask for personal donations via friends or family or even set up an event or website to bring in the big bucks.
Managing your money
Online banking is a great way to manage your money while you’re away, but you might not have access to a reliable internet connection.
Plan ahead so you have enough cash for when you first arrive, and if you intend to use a credit or debit card, research how readily available ATMs are.
Vaccinations and malaria tablets
Depending on the country in which you’ll be volunteering, you might need vaccinations or malaria tablets. Visit your GP for all the information you need.
A lot of the vaccines are readily available for free on the NHS but there are a few that you may have to pay for so make sure you budget for them.
Visas and passport requirements
You’ll need a visa to volunteer in some countries. Make sure that you sort out all of your paperwork well in advance to prevent any delays.
You’ll also need to make sure that you have plenty of validity left on your passport, and that it’ll cover you for your return journey (as much as you may want to be stuck in a hot country forever).
Keeping in touch with friends and family
Your loved ones will want to know that you’re safe and having a good time, so think about how you’ll stay in touch. Some UK mobiles will have to be unlocked by the network provider in order to work abroad. The costs are likely to be high though, so consider buying a local SIM card once you arrive in your destination.
Your friends and family will be able to buy call cards to ring you for cheaper than the usual rates, so make sure they know about this.
Don’t forget about the trusty Skype too, if you can get your hands on a WiFi signal that is.
What companies can I go through?
There are plenty of companies based in the UK that can help you find and secure your dream volunteering job abroad. They all offer a wide range of roles and locations.
The benefit of volunteering through a company is that they have a wealth of experience. They’ll know about the opportunities available, and they’ll take away a lot of the strain around getting things sorted. You’ll also have the extra peace of mind knowing that if anything does go wrong, they’ll be able to help you sort things out.
As always we would suggest researching the opportunities online and working out which is best for you, both in terms of opportunities and cost.
However, you will want to make sure that you are applying through a trustworthy company. Let’s take a look at a few reputable companies as recommended by us.
InvAid are a relitively new company but don’t let this put you off. Their range of volunteering opportunities is growing all of the time and you could work in countries such as Togo, Malawi and Cambodia.
The best thing about Invasion is that the costs are low.
BUNAC have over 50 years experience in arranging volunteering roles abroad, and covers Africa, Asia and the Americas.
Opportunities offered include teaching, coaching sport for children, and environmental conservation. It’s one of the most well-known organisations, so you can be sure that you’re in safe hands.
GVI have been running for 14 years and offers a very varied programme of opportunities. Whether you fancy social enterprise development, healthcare projects, or marine conservation, you’ll find something that suits you.
It has an outstanding reputation for supporting its volunteers once they’re in their chosen location.
VSO specialises in projects that help to overcome poverty. Key priorities include health, participation and governance, securing livelihoods, and education.
It takes particular pride in finding the very best people for its roles.
Volunteering at home
If you are looking to volunteer in the UK with your chosen charity then it may be best to contact them directly asking how you can get involved with their projects.
If you are unsure as to who you would like to volunteer with then there are plenty of websites out there that allow you to search for volunteering opportunities in the UK such as Volunteering England and Do-it.
Are you thinking about volunteering during your gap year? What sort of opportunities are you looking at?