While studying abroad is a wonderful way to experience another culture, it often provides students with a somewhat limited scope of the country they are in. Many study abroad programs place students in dorms and classes solely comprised of other American students. Others put students in home stays and in classes with native students but interaction can still be limited. For students who want more, volunteering while studying abroad is a great option. Classroom time requires that you learn about new places out of textbooks – volunteering provides a first hand way to gain a better understanding of your new city’s culture.
It may seem difficult, but there are many ways to become involved in volunteering while studying abroad. Conduct research before you pick a program – look for ones that have any type of internship or service learning option. Most of the internships that program providers offer are unpaid and offer opportunities to work in schools, teach English and help serve the community. IES (The Institute for the International Education of Students) is a well known program provider that offers internship and service learning opportunities. Some of NYU’s study abroad programs also offer unpaid internships. These can turn into service learning opportunities depending on what you choose to do. Also, your home university may award credit for the service learning that you do so make sure to ask!
If you get to the country that you’re studying in and you find that your program provider does not have any type of service learning option, you can always ask the administrators on site about volunteering options. Every city, town and country throughout the world can use volunteers. Volunteering while studying abroad allows you transition from a distant observer to an active participant in wherever you are living.