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Outreach International: The most frequently asked questions about gap year volunteering abroad

Date added: Thursday 5th May 2016

Planning your gap year: The most frequently asked questions about volunteering abroad as part of a gap year

Having attended dozens of events over the spring, talking to sixth form interest groups, speaking at seminars with parents and attending gap fairs, Steve Summers from Outreach International summarises the answers to the most frequently asked questions about volunteering abroad as part of your gap year?

Volunteers working in pairs works best when they share the same goals

What is the minimum time I can go for?

We recommend a minimum of a month in conservation projects and two months for those working with children. Some projects will require a minimum commitment of 3 months based on the nature of a volunteer role.

The general rule is the longer the better and on average our volunteers go for 3 months. As a volunteer living in a new country, effectively in a new job, you will experience a lot of change. It will take a while to get comfortable in your new surrounds and develop confidence in your volunteer role, so the longer you stay the more confidence you will develop, the more enjoyable it becomes and the greater the difference you can make.

Can I go for a year?

It is possible, but for those gap year volunteers with the budget and time we would recommend 6 months initially, working across two or three projects. This gives you benefit of learning from multiple experiences, staying energised and fresh, and you can always extend your stay if you wish. 12 months is a big commitment that we only recommend for mature volunteers.

Should I go before, during or after Uni?

Only you can answer this. There is never a perfect time, as there is always a natural pull towards your continuing studies or career.

So think about whether you feel confident enough to travel independently? You will be taking on quite a challenge volunteering abroad; for some this will be the perfect opportunity to develop, for others you might choose to wait until you have more life experience.

It might be that you need to travel to take time out, have some fun and help you think about the future. Volunteering can be a very formative experience, helping you gain a better understanding of a study or career choice, and so it might be better to go for it sooner rather than later.

For others volunteering may support your further education, being a valuable part of a language course for example, or giving you rare experience with your vocation, (as a part or newly qualified therapist or teacher for example). This may mean that volunteering during or after Uni is a great choice.

Can I do anything I like?

Within reason, yes, but together we need to make sure the project is well matched to you, taking account of your experience, study and career goals, and any strong personal preferences.

The variety of projects we support means there is usually a project to suit everyone. An important role we play, especially with younger volunteers, is to make sure you are in the project best suited to you. We do online interviews with all our volunteers, to get to know you and make sure we make the very best choice of project together, which sometimes means recommending a project that would not have been a natural first choice.

There are a broad range of teaching roles for example, but each one has its nuances that means some will be more applicable than others, based on the demands of the volunteer role, location or accommodation for example.

When can I go? Are there set dates to leave?

All of our projects are sustainable community projects and so they exist irrespective of our volunteers. So within reason volunteers can organise dates to suit them, as long as there are spaces available (we donít want an excess of volunteers swamping a project).

Of course some projects like the turtle conservation and the whale research are based on a breeding season, and schools will have term times that need to be accounted for.

Steve Summers, with students from Richard Collyerís 6th Form College

When do I need to book?

We recommend having your volunteer placement booked a minimum of 6 months in advance, and ideally 9-12 months. This gives you the time to consider all the options thoughtfully, prepare your finances, and importantly research & prepare for your volunteer role.

We do manage to support volunteers going out on just a few monthís notice, but this is never ideal and can leave you exposed to higher flight costs.

Can I volunteer with a friend?

It is possible to volunteer with a friend, but of course make sure you share the same ambitions and preferences. What might seem great for one person might be less suitable for another, and this can lead to challenges once you are out there.

Some projects are ideal for two volunteers and it can be a real benefit as you feed off each otherís ideas. Alternatively, there are some locations where you might stay in the same volunteer accommodation but work on different projects, so sharing part of the experience but working more independently.

Will I be with other volunteers?

This is one of your preferences that we want to understand, so we place you in a project that meets your requirements.

Some projects we support may have other volunteers there, some may not. Some volunteers want to be with others to enjoy a social experience, other volunteers want to see less of other volunteers so they can integrate more with the local staff and culture.

What support will there be out there?

One of the most important members of the Outreach team is the local country coordinator, who is there to meet the volunteer, provide an orientation to the location, health & safety briefing, introduction to the project and be an ongoing coach, friend or parent to each volunteer. They help ensure that things go right and offer knowledgeable local assistance in the event anything goes wrong.

Being matched to the right project is essential

Can I do this while back-packing?

Many of our gap year volunteers choose to volunteer as part of a longer back-packing experience. For example volunteering in Ecuador before going on to tour South America. This ensures there is a really meaningful element to your adventure.

We recommend volunteering at the start of your travels, as it helps you develop the confidence and skills to then go off independently.

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Outreach International is a social enterprise that has been supporting volunteers abroad and improving the outcomes from community led projects for 18 years. For more information see www.outreachinternational.co.uk