Q&A: "Volunteering is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in a culture"

Posted on 24th Apr 2017 in Oyster Worldwide, Volunteering Abroad, Q&A

In part 2 of our Q&A with Oyster Worldwide we look at volunteering abroad.

Why should gappers choose to volunteer?

Volunteering is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in a culture and to experience a different side of living overseas. It is a great way to contribute a little bit to the country that you are visiting as well. In terms of less altruistic motives it can be great experience if you are interested in entering a specific field. It is also something that looks really good on a CV.

There are so many options available to gappers, how can you decide what project to take part on?

It is important to consider what you want to get out of the experience. There are so many different fields that you can get involved in; teaching, childcare, animal welfare, conservation and sports. Think about your interests and what you enjoy doing and you won't go far wrong. Another thing to consider is how long you want to go for. If you only have a short amount of time it might be sensible to avoid volunteering with children as that is often not considered to be very ethical.

What kind of time frames are available for volunteering placements, and how should you choose which time frame will be best for you?

You can volunteer on one of our programmes from as little as one week up to three months. It is also possible to combine programmes if you would like to go away for longer. When choosing how long to go away there are a number of factors to consider, how long you want to be away from home for, how much you will be able to contribute the programme in the time you have and of course, unfortunately, cost can be a limiting factor too.

What is the application process like for securing a voluntary role and when should gappers think about applying?

Our application process is quite simple. We have a straight-forward online application form that we ask people to complete, once we have received the form we give the applicant a call to have a bit of chat, find out more about them and answer any questions they might have. We then ask for a deposit to be paid within a week and once that has been received your place can be confirmed on the programme. We recommend that you get the ball rolling as soon as you have decided that this is something that you want to do. A lot of volunteer programmes have limited spaces and they can book up a long time in advance, especially for the popular summer months. Make sure that you don't miss out by applying in plenty of time.

What are the key points that gappers need to remember when it comes to staying safe while volunteering?

Always follow advice from the project, they are the experts and will know best how to stay safe. Other than that it is the standard safety tips that you should always follow when travelling to new places like getting a taxi home after dark, going around in groups, not flashing the valuables and that sort of thing.

Do you get many families volunteering? What benefits does this give the children?

A growing number of adventurous families are now ditching the poolside lounging in favour off rustic volunteering projects. Parents are increasingly keen to engage with their children on a different level, and do something that is outside everyone's comfort zone - in other words, have a real adventure for all the family. Our families have reported back so many incredible benefits that their volunteer trips have brought to them and their children. Some of the main ones include:

- appreciating that life in other countries is very different to what it is like at home

- being removed from internet access and gadgets which allows some genuine family time

- actually working to make a difference together as a family brings great bonding moments and memories for life.

What are the current trends for volunteering, and what factors have affected these trends?

We are finding that people are not looking to go away for quite such extended periods anymore. They might be looking to go for up to three months rather than three months plus.

What are the ethical concerns surrounding the volunteering industry?

"Voluntourism" has really come under scrutiny in the past few years, and rightly so. Well-meaning people are spending lots of money joining projects that might be detrimental to the people and animals that they are claiming to help. Recent concerns have included "orphanage tourism", where volunteer organisations pay orphanages to receive their volunteers - this has led to an increasing number of children from loving yet poor families selling their children to orphanages so that there are "enough" orphans for the volunteer project. In the animal welfare side of things, many volunteers are signing up to join lion rehabilitation projects where they spend their days caring for lion cubs before they are released to the wild- without realising that they are helping to humanise the lions, and that these lions will be released to reserves for hunting.

These high profile cases have led to understandable nervousness on the behalf of prospective volunteers. It can seem like a real gauntlet to know which projects you should support. If you have concerns, you should make sure to ask lots of questions about the project before booking, and ensure that you are going with a reputable company with a proven track record. Oyster Worldwide visits and personally assesses all of the projects with which we work, expecting high levels of support and welfare from our partner projects. Additionally, the Year Out Group lists such organisations which go above and beyond to ensure that they have good projects.

For more information on Oyster Worldwide click here

Part 1 of our Q&A on working abroad