Volunteering Abroad as a College Student

By Lauren Augustine

An afternoon with the kids at the local school
An afternoon with the kids at the local school

Volunteering abroad can be a life changing experience and something I recommend for all young adults who are looking for a change in perspective. Whether you go for the service or the vacation, you are sure to get an authentic look at another culture and some new insight into yourself. My personal volunteering story takes place the summer of my eighteenth birthday when I traveled to Ghana and constructed schools in a small village. What I learned about could never be taught in a classroom or office. I learned the importance of volunteering but more importantly, I learned the importance of understanding others. Traveling to lend a hand in another country broadened the depth of my compassion and completely changed my perspective on giving.

One of the hardest parts of the entire trip was finding a program with which to volunteer. Endless Google searches left me overwhelmed by the number of opportunities. I wanted an authentic experience overseas where I would live with a family and work in the community during the day. I found endless results, but finally settled on Projects Abroad, one of the many organizations placing volunteers overseas. Projects Abroad had me set up a private profile where I could access all the information about my trip, everything I needed to do or get before I left, as well as all the necessary safety information. Although I was traveling across the world, my parents felt comfortable and informed. While Projects Abroad provided essential things for foreigners and volunteers, it did not distract form my having an authentic Ghanian experience.

My daily life mirrored that of my host brothers with whom I worked, building houses and a school, doing house chores, and running errands in town. I lived the life of a Ghanian and learned new ways to do familiar tasks such as showering, cooking and laundry. Complete immersion into their way of life gave me a new perspective and allowed me to truly see what they needed. Too often the needs of other countries become so distant that progress is equated to money. A blank check turns into the quick fix for any need because we don’t spend the time to figure out an actual solution.

Although I never underwent severe “culture shock”, it was fascinating to see another way of life. In Kwamoso there was no electricity, something I am dependent upon at home. However, the way they accommodated the lack of electricity had a relatively positive effect on their society. Adults worked only as long as the sun was out and then spent the rest of the night with their family or asleep. A typical night included sitting around a long table reading by candlelight, playing board games or simply talking to one another. Of my whole trip, one of my most memorable moments was teaching a neighborhood boy named Kofi to pronounce the English letters of the alphabet using the label on a bag of Jolly Ranchers.

On my trip I was able to see Ghana through the eyes of the Ghanians. I was there right after the celebration of their fiftieth year of independence and the country was still filled with joy and celebration. Everyone I met, from taxi drivers to seamstresses, carried a national pride and a deep interest in their future. They have created a society where people work hard, love their families, and have a strong sense of community.

While great for all ages, I believe that volunteering is essential for college students. It gives you a taste of another culture, showing you new and different ways of doing things. It also cultivates independence while still stressing the importance of community and working together. Volunteering led me to my passion and interest in international development. Volunteering doesn’t have to be expensive, time consuming, or difficult; as long as you invest your heart in whatever you do, you are bound to reap the benefits that naturally come with service. As they say, the more you give, the more you get. Volunteering is a way to fully give yourself over to another community and another culture. 

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