International volunteering is a thrilling way to experience a new culture and immerse yourself in the lives of locals. However it is important to be aware that adopting the role of a learner within your host community creates the best experience both for you and them. It’s easy as a volunteer to fall into the trap of viewing yourself as a ‘saviour’, or to fall for the marketing schemes of voluntourism companies which market through phrases such as “Save the World” or “Rescue the Victims”. This type of perspective creates an imbalanced relationship of giver and receiver and brings up echoes of colonialism and the “white hero in shining armor”.
As a visitor in a new culture it’s important to respect the people you are working with, which is why the idea of cultural exchange is crucial. Exchange like this is about gaining an understanding and appreciation for the lives of the people you are working with, and taking the time to learn about their situation. Likewise, you have the opportunity to share your life and culture with people who might not have the chance to travel abroad. You get to bring the experience of your culture right to them, and have now created a connection between two ways of life. Both sides have gained new perspectives, leading to more acceptance and understanding of different cultures.