Thinking About Volunteering Abroad? Here is Everything You Need to Know

experteering photo

 

We had the chance to sit down with Mark Horoszowski, CEO and co-founders of MovingWorlds, to learn more about the “Experteering” movement, and share some best practice for anybody interested in volunteering overseas.

Mark Horoszowski

First… Why do people volunteer their skills abroad?

We see people go for any number of reasons. Graduate students looking for practical experience, young professionals looking to gain international exposure, career switchers looking for something new, and early retirees looking to give back are a few of the ones we hear the most common, but we’ve also seen people go Experteering in their country of origin to reconnect with their culture, and travelers do it as a way to gain a more immersive experience.

The common thing here is that there is shared value – people recognize that they can help, but that they can also benefit in the process. This is one of the reasons we encourage people to be a little selfish in their service.

 

What are the most common types of skills-based volunteer projects overseas that you call “Experteering”?

We typically see people enter one of the following project categories:

 

Training: Leading one-on-one and one-to-many sessions with an organization or group organizations to help teach a specific skill or tool. These are typically 1 – 4 weeks long.

 

Doing: Supporting an organization with a specific task that has a clear deliverable, like designing a new website, developing a marketing plan, creating an engineering schematic, or another skills-based project. These are typically 2 – 8 weeks.

 

Consulting: Immersing yourself in a specific opportunity or challenge area to propose a clear plan of action to the organization to help them grow, giving yourself enough time to learn community and cultural contexts. Typical length of 3 – 12 weeks.

 

Team member: Become a core team member for a specific length of time for a specific business area, like marketing, operations, engineering, etc. Typical length of 12 + weeks.

 

What kind of people can go Experteering?

Anybody, as long as they have demonstrable experience in a specific area. We’ve had videographers still in college go work on projects, and we’ve also helped place retired accountants.

 

What are 5 of the most popular do’s and dont’s of international volunteering?

  1. Do spend adequate time planning. We have an online training to help people prepare mentally for this type of trip.
  2. Do build a partnership with your hosting organization and team
  3. Do spend a lot of time trying to understand the cultural context of the country AND organization you’re going to support
  4. Do think about the LONG TERM impact. At MovingWorlds, we say that success happens one year after you leave… focus on developing the skills and competencies of others.
  5. Do take time to reflect on your experience. In fact, we recommend people engage a mentor or coach as part of their experience and take time to set goals, document their trip, and reflect on it once they return home.

 

  1. Don’t go in there and think you have the answers. If you want to help someone, shut-up and listen.
  2. Don’t ignore the importance of cultural differences, and how they affect communication.
  3. Don’t start without a plan. The number one reason trips don’t go well is because people don’t take adequate time to plan
  4. Don’t go before you know. If you haven’t talked to the people you’ll be volunteering abroad with, don’t buy a plane ticket
  5. Don’t rush it – this is an experience of a lifetime. Be picky about the organization you volunteer with and spend time planning to truly make sure it’s a transformative experience for all parties.

 

We have some other great tips in this article from Why Dev.

 

Why do many organizations charge you to volunteer overseas, and why is MovingWorlds different?

Many organizations charge you to volunteer because it’s how they make money. In other words, they’re not after your skills or know-how, they are after your dollars. In exchange, they can give you an interesting experience. But sometimes, this creates really bad incentives and major ethical dilemmas.

 

At MovingWorlds, we do things differently – our organizations never charge you to volunteer because they really need your skills. Often times, they even give you a free place to live while you’re overseas. One article about us said it best, “Voluntourism can’t solve real problems, that’s where Experteers come in”. Because of the care and attention we provide every match, we do charge a membership fee – fully guaranteed and refundable – so that we can support you in finding a project that matches your real skills. Beyond helping you find a project, we walk you through a complete process to help you make a real impact and provide plenty of resources to equip you for a life-enriching trip.

 

You spent a year traveling and volunteering around the world before MovingWorlds was even an idea… what’s one piece of more personal advice you would give to anybody volunteering overseas?

 

Be humble. Even if you’re going to volunteer your skills and think you’re an expert, be ridiculously humble. The cultural differences you’ll be working in are so vast that you’ll find it challenging to actually be impactful if you don’t embrace that. And not only that, but there is so much to learn from people you go Experteering with… provided you have an open mind.

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