Having decided on a volunteer placement that excites you, the next step to consider is what it will be like when you arrive in your host community to start your placement. The key to overseas volunteering is to open your mind well before you leave home and keep it open all the time you are away. Former volunteers have continually stressed the importance of being flexible while in a placement, and volunteer placement organisations often list flexibility as one of the characteristics of an ideal volunteer.
Your time overseas can start before you even leave home. Preparation before travelling to a new country can help you to deal with any ‘culture shock’ you may experience and can ensure that you and those you are working with get the most out of your time overseas.
Simply having an open mind and travelling to another country and culture are not enough to automatically guarantee that you will learn from an overseas volunteer placement. It is necessary to reflect on your experiences so that you can learn about the country and culture you’re in. A good way to do this is to learn how to question what you have seen and done from other perspectives.
Having the attitude that you are in a placement to learn, rather that just to help, can be a useful point from which to start asking the questions that will contribute to your knowledge and understanding.
It is very important to consider how you as a volunteer might be perceived by the host community with whom you will be working and living.
The experiences of former volunteers, who have undergone both the high and low points of volunteering, can point to some of the issues that might arise for you while you are overseas.