​International Volunteering

Travel the world, learn languages and discover new cultures.

Here at Surrey...

Although we do not actively promote any international volunteering projects except for those organised by the Students' Union e.g. Surrey RAG International Event, we will always try to help with advice on finding overseas projects. It is important to note that there are a few disreputable organisations out there who may try to take advantage of willing volunteers by charging high fees, offering poor services etc. Therefore, here is a bit of general advice about what to consider when looking for good causes abroad...

Why do it? 

Just like here in the UK, there are thousands of organisations around the world that can offer you the chance to gain new skills, meet people and have fun. Volunteering overseas can be a life-changing experience with the chance to see new countries, experience new cultures and make a difference in a completely new community, often far off the beaten track.

It's a bit daunting...

For many people the idea of uprooting to another country for anything from a few weeks to a few years is very scary. Much like going on holiday, there are lots of things to think about as with e.g. flights, accommodation, vaccines and immunisations, money, insurance and more. However, if you add in the volunteering aspect there are other questions:

  • What can I do?
  • Where can I go?
  • How do I pick an organisation?
  • What are the costs involved?

Don't worry though. Just like choosing a university, there are lots of things to think about but with a bit of thought and consideration you'll find your perfect project. Here are a few things to think about.

What to do...

When choosing a project or charity, you may want to think about what skills you can offer, what you want to gain from the experience, what impact you want to make, how much time you have to give and which countries/continents interest you the most.

MATCH YOUR SKILLS. Try to list your skills and qualifications and match them to a project. In this way, you can be sure you'll make the biggest impact possible. Moreover, by donig something you're familiar with, or skilled in, you will find it much easier to find your feet when you first arrive.

BE SELFISH. Make sure that you choose something that will benefit you, as well as the local community, by identifying your interests and passions e.g. gain teaching experience, learn new languages, pick up sports coaching qualifications, gain medical/healthcare experience etc.

STAND BY FOR IMPACT. Find out what the exact aims and objectives are for the charity and what responsibilities you will have as a volunteer. Each organisation shouldd be able to explain how its work benefits the local community. If they can't, then look elsewhere. 

TIME IS VALUABLE. Think about the time you have available as this will affect the projects you can take part in. Some charities are happy to accept volunteers for a few weeks whereas others are only looking for those who can commit to one or two years at a time.

CONSIDER THE CULTURE. You'll be much more effective if you care about the country and its people. It's a unique opportunity to be a part of a completely new community so choose somewhere that interests you. Also, make sure to avoid any cultural faux-pas. Absorb the atmosphere, food, language, sights and more.

How to choose...

There are thousands of options for you to choose from but don't just go with the first that you see. You need to think about a lot of different things:

  • What are the aims and objectives of the organisation?
  • Is it a charity or a business?
  • Is there a enquiries/support contact?
  • How involved is the local community in the project? 
  • What are the rights and responsibilities of the volunteers?
  • Is accommodation/food provided?
  • Can you talk to previous volunteers about their experiences?
  • Is there any training and support provided before and after?
  • What are the costs? And where does the money go?

You should also think about insurance for any activities run by the organisation, transport to and from airport, how much spending money is needed for the area, is a visa required for the country in question.

The majority of organisations will offer this information up-front to save you time or will encourage you to ask questions about all aspects of the project. If they don't, then perhaps you should look elsewhere.

Why does volunteering cost money?

Overseas projects can cost a lot when you include flights, accommodation, visas, food, insurance etc. not to mention a fee (including a charitable donation) to the project in question. Therefore, it's important to make sure you get value for money.

Any fees you pay to the charity will be used to pay for staff support, expertise, necessary resources, a contribution to any accommodation/food provided, along with pre-programme training and advice.

When you look at the fees involved on a project try to find out as much information about where all the money goes. In this way, it will be easier to recognise those disreputable charities who cannot account for where some of the money goes. For example, if their costs include high-quality pre-programme support and advice hotlines, test out the phonelines and see if you're happy with the level of service.

Do it yourself...

If you're an experience traveller and feel confident in new and unfamiliar situations then why not choose a country, go and find a project once you're already there. This will save you a lot of expenses however, it will also mean that you are largely on your own and will have less access to emergency support services etc.

The University of Surrey Students' Union does not advise its students to do this unless they are familiar with the country, its culture and language(s) and take all necessary measures to ensure they are properly covered for all eventualities.

Final words...

This is all very general advice aimed at making you think about all the options and how to decide on the best project for you.

We wish you the best of luck and if you have a good experience or a bad one then please let us know. Just email ussu.volunteering@surrey.ac.uk.