Volunteering in a foreign culture can be an extremely rewarding experience for everyone involved. Helping people in disadvantaged communities helps volunteers see the world through a new lens and go back home with a different outlook on themselves and the world around them. It’s easy for many to imagine their time volunteering will be an amazing experience changing the lives of countless people for the better but it is good to have realistic expectations when you volunteer.
Volunteering with Friends for Asia allows participants to take part in a variety of projects that help some of the more disadvantaged communities in Thailand, Vietnam, Nepal, and Bali. These projects place volunteers with locals and other volunteers to help with teaching English, working at an elephant camp, or playing with kids at an orphanage, just to name a few. And though working at our project sites help the community, the progress volunteers will see during their 2-4 engagements may be small. Some volunteers want to change the world and make a large impact. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.
When volunteers only have short period of time to commit to helping it’s important to remember that our projects have been building relationships and helping communities for years. Although some can only help for a few weeks, they are part of a larger cause. A volunteer’s impact maybe small but they are building on what volunteers who came before them built and also paving the way for those who will follow. It’s easy to get discouraged when a volunteer only gets to see a small portion of what Friends for Asia does in the communities.
Overcoming Cultural Hurdles
Time constraints aren’t the only factors that can limit what a volunteer feels they can accomplish while working in Asia. Working in another culture comes with many hurdles one must overcome and knowing this coming into a volunteering experience helps everyone involved. Language barriers and cultural differences are part of life when living and working abroad. Sometimes these differences can make volunteers feel as though they aren’t making progress. It’s important that volunteers be patient and understanding when faced with difficulties that come as part of living abroad. It’s easy to see these language barriers as brick walls sometimes, but overcoming a language barrier or cultural difference to make even a small contribution comes with big rewards.
Other volunteers bring with them their own cultures and personalities. The relationships volunteers have with one another are crucial for having a positive work experience abroad. It’s ok to have disagreements with others but try not to let it get in the way of the serving the communities. Working hard and staying positive are great ways to ensure that volunteers take meaningful experiences home with them after their time with Friends for Asia. It’s overcoming hurdles like language barriers and cultural differences that make volunteering so rewarding. Coming to Asia with grand ideas about changing the world are good but it’s good to stay grounded. Volunteers who do come and work hard will take away a feeling of accomplishment when they finish.
Having proper expectations about helping others in a foreign culture is key to having a successful volunteering experience. Keep in mind that though each individual volunteer’s contribution may be small, each volunteer is part of a larger story. The baton is passed to each new volunteer who works with Friends for Asia to build upon the work that has been done in the past and this sets the stage for future volunteers to serve in the same communities.