Leaving For An Extended Volunteer Trip: Beyond The Logistics

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December 31, 1969

Editor’s note: Brittany is embarking on a yearlong Fulbright program in Malaysia starting this January. Below are tips that have helped her prepare for this trip, as well as prvious ones!

So you’ve got your visa arranged, decided how to pack your bags, and are reasonably sure how to get to your first stop after the airport. Basically, you’re completely prepared to fly into another hemisphere and take on an exciting new volunteer project. Yet, it really feels like you forgot something—it’s time to prepare yourself.Zebras - Volunteer Global

Before you leave for an extended volunteer abroad trip, it’s hard to imagine just how much your life is about to change. After all, who can fathom all the changes that come with moving somewhere totally new with a different culture, different people, and a different day-to-day routine? Even so, it’s important to prepare yourself as best as you can before even getting on the plane. Think of it as adjusting to your change beforehand: you want to make sure that you are ready to go before you go, not deal with it afterwards.

Prepare to Leave Friends and Loved Ones (just for now!)

Before you leave, it might be tempting to slip away from your friends and family without formally saying goodbyes. After all, saying goodbye to anyone that you love is tough. If you do though, you may regret later that you didn’t take the time to show your friends and family just how much you’ll miss them while you’re abroad. Saying goodbye is part of a relationship—and a necessary part when you won’t be physically seeing someone for a longer period of time.

Set Yourself a Timeline That Goes Beyond Your Trip Abroad

It’s important that you make some kind of timeline, even if it’s loose and totally arbitrary. The most important thing is simply that you’re able to see beyond your trip abroad—even if you aren’t sure if you want to go to graduate school, keep traveling, or land a job.

Your volunteer abroad trip doesn’t need to be a career break, but it can be see as a part of your career that will help you keep growing. Try to think of your travels as part of the bigger picture—it’s way too easy to forget about your long-term plans while you’re so far away from your normal life!

Make a Bucket List for Your Time Abroad

In the weeks leading up to your trip, you’ll probably be both excited and terrified, but in the end, you want to be more excited than you are nervous. The best way to do this is to envision all of the amazing things that you’ll accomplish during your trip. Do you want to climb a local mountain? Taste some of the riskier cuisines? Make your volunteer abroad bucket list something that you can only be excited about—the very first step of planning something awesome and unforgettable.

Remind Yourself That You Can, If Needed, Come Home

Volunteering abroad is not all fun and games. In fact, sometimes it can be undeniably grueling and disappointing. However, I find it really useful to remember that during the darkest hours of volunteering abroad, to know that I can go home if I need to. This might seem a little backwards, but it keeps me going. It’s good, I think, to realize that you’re volunteering abroad because you want to, not because you have to. This realization makes the difference between being depressed about the realities of your volunteer abroad trip and recognizing any issues as challenges worth tackling.

Leaving home is tough, especially when you’ll be away for a long time—but challenges like this make up the spice of life. Volunteering abroad during a long-term trip is an excellent way to challenge yourself, your beliefs, and make a mark on your ever-growing world. 

Photo courtesy of Bob Steiner, Creative Commons.