To get the most out of your experience volunteering abroad, there are some key things you can do to fully immerse yourself in your new surroundings.
Here are some quick tips:
Have cultural awareness before departure. It’s recommended that you do some research before setting off, so that you gain a better understanding of the social norms, expectations, and local customs of where you will soon be living. Understanding the cultural differences within communities will truly enrich your experience. And preparing a bit before leaving will help lower the risk of offending someone due to lack of understanding.
Open your mind. Being open to trying new things is essential to spark growth and learning from your experience. With that willingness to take in new perspectives, you evolve. Having the ability to adapt to a different way of life is essential, and it is made much better when you are free from judgement. Maintaining an open mind and a willingness to learn will benefit you immensely on your travels.
Make an effort to learn the language. If you are volunteering in a location where the primary language is not English, make an effort to learn at least a few key phrases of the local language! Locals will admire your efforts and will almost certainly be more than willing to assist your learning. This act alone immerses you in their culture, but also helps build connections with people.
Get to know the locals. Making interactions with people is inevitable, through your work placements and travels. If you put effort into building relationships with those you meet, you will access firsthand knowledge on their beliefs, cultures, traditions, and history.
Embrace your new experiences. It is best to go in with limited expectations, as things often don’t go directly as planned. If you have the ability to take things as they come you will thrive in new settings. As you embark on your new journey, try to realize that moments that are out of your comfort zone are opportunities for growth and learning!
Try new food. This one is almost guaranteed to occur, especially in home stays! Trying new food is not only tasty, but it also helps connect with people. Food generally brings people together, and when you have the opportunity to be immersed in what the local people find valuable and meaningful, it’s a special experience.
Venture beyond tourist attractions. It is very important to understand that when you are volunteering, you are not a tourist. The experience is much more in depth than spending two weeks in a foreign location and getting your Insta-worthy photos at the known attractions. You will have the ability to travel beyond and enjoy what the locals enjoy. Take advantage of that to the fullest!
If you find it difficult immersing yourself in the local culture, here are some thoughts to consider. Take a moment to reflect on your own actions and attitudes. Are misunderstanding other people? Are you isolating yourself, or over using technology? These things are very likely to prevent you from being fully immersed in a new way of living. With an strong willingness to learn and an adaptable personality, you shouldn’t have a problem!