While you volunteer abroad, issues may arise. We understand that these things happen and want to help you solve any problem that may come up. We’ve compiled a list of some of the most common volunteer complaints that I’ve heard of for you to review, some of which have even happened to me!
Lack of communication between you and your volunteer organization
The organization you volunteer with should make themselves available to support you via email, telephone, and other methods of communication. Support should come both before your departure and while you are in the country. That being said, communication is a two-way street. Please communicate with your volunteer abroad agency for any doubts, concerns, or questions you have. Many large problems can be prevented by just a little communication.
Problems with your host family or lodging accommodations
You should know how your host family was vetted and selected for you. If your volunteer organization doesn’t offer up this information upfront, ask questions to ensure you’re host family or accommodations are an appropriate placement. You may also confirm how many people live in the house, what you will have access to, and whether or not you will have your own bedroom. If you learn details you’re not comfortable with, simply let your volunteer agency know and they will work with you to find more appropriate accommodations or a different volunteering opportunity abroad.
Issues with work placement or job responsibilities
Sometimes, volunteers arrive to find that their work is not what they expected. I experienced this when I volunteered in Ecuador. To avoid this situation, you should acquire as much information as possible before committing to a project. Ask how your project was vetted, who runs the organization locally, and whether there is an on-site manager. Get in touch with someone who worked directly for the organization before leaving your country or talk to a past volunteer from the program.
There’s not enough properly managed abroad volunteer work
Some volunteers have complained that instead of being given the opportunity to work hard and utilize their skills, they spend most the day waiting for instructions or to be given work. Or, you may find that you’re in a situation where there are too many volunteers and not enough work to go around. To avoid this situation, speak to your organization about a detailed work schedule. A good volunteer organization should be able to provide you with an hour-by-hour work breakdown.
Issues with money
One of the most important things when researching a volunteer organization is to know where your money is going. Volunteers who say they spent too much money or complain that their program was too expensive for the experience they received often times did not do very good organization research. Don’t let this happen to you! Compare program costs with multiple organizations to ensure you aren’t being duped into paying high prices for half-hearted or meaningless volunteer experiences abroad.
Tips: Problems And Complaints
Most problems you encounter while volunteering abroad are normally a result of miscommunication. You should be open with in-country staff and communicate your needs to the best of your abilities. In-country staff wants more than anything for you to be happy.
It is also up to you to learn about and understand the realities and limitations of living and volunteering in a developing country prior to your travel. Although it may be hard, try to maintain expectations that are consistent with those realities and limitations. If there is a problem with the accommodation or project, you should first attempt to discuss and resolve the matter with the staff as soon as the problem arises. If there is no resolution, then please politely ask your in-country coordinator for help with the situation.
We cannot stress enough that however rewarding and memorable volunteering abroad in a third world country is, it can also be very challenging. Electricity and other modern conveniences may not always be available. In many of the host countries we work in, electricity is available only intermittently. And in some of these countries, hot water may be only intermittent or not available at all. Volunteers should determine whether they are up to the task of living with these inconveniences as part of the experience of volunteering in a third world. It is best to try and meet these frustrations with initiative ingenuity and a sense of humor.
It is important to understand that the everyday conveniences (as mentioned above) that are sometimes taken for granted in developed countries are considered luxuries in developing countries. The temporary inconvenience that you will experience is a part of everyday life for citizens of developing countries. We, therefore, ask that you approach your experience with patience and an open mind.
What Are Some Frequently Asked Questions?
Just to make sure we’ve covered all of our bases, I’d like to review some final questions with you for abroad volunteer travel program. These are questions that come up for volunteer’s time and time again. Some of them have been previously addressed, and others have not.
Will other volunteers be working with me?
Other people may be working with you, or they may not. This depends mostly on the size of your volunteer organization. Volunteering abroad in the summer will give you a higher chance of working with other volunteers. You can also reach out to your project coordinator and inquire about fellow volunteer.
If I really love my project, can I stay longer?
If you are really enjoying your project and have the means to stay, you may be able to extend your time. Small and medium sized volunteer organizations are more flexible while larger organizations that have more volunteers coming and going may not allow it. You may also consider visa limitations.
What happens if I don’t like my project?
If it turns out that you really don’t like your project, depending on your organization you may be able to change your project. Smaller organizations tend to be more flexible with regards to abroad volunteer placement, whereas larger organizations may be more rigid.
What should I do if I have a problem with my project?
If you have a problem at during your day-to-day work, you should first talk to your work supervisor. If the problem is not resolved, be sure to inform the in-country coordinator. Keep in mind that as a volunteer, you may not always be watched closely by a supervisor.
How will I get from the airport to my host family/housing?
Your organization will arrange this for you, and they should give you clear directions about what to do when you arrive at the airport of your destination country. Be sure to inform your organization about your flight times and confirm where you will meet each other.
Will there be support from anyone in my host country?
Yes, in most instances in-country support is available, but it’s always best to check with your organization directly.
If I volunteer with a friend can we be placed in the same volunteer work abroad and be housed together?
In most circumstances there should be no problem with this, but it’s best to make such plans known to your volunteer organization well in advance so that appropriate arrangements can be made rather than applying independently and hoping for the best.
Are meals and housing provided?
Most programs’ fees will include accommodation and 2-3 meals a day. Check with your volunteer program abroad to find out exactly what is provided.
I am a vegetarian; will that be a problem?
Host families want to look after volunteers in the best possible way, and they are usually more than happy to work around dietary requirements. It is best however to advise your organization and host family before arriving so they are aware of the situation and can prepare accordingly.
Will my host family be able to speak English?
Most host families accommodating those who are volunteering abroad will speak some basic English, however this is not guaranteed. Since you are visiting their country and living with them, it is the perfect opportunity for you to learn or practice their language too.
Can I travel to other cities during my days off?
Yes, while volunteering it is recommended that you visit and explore as many destinations as you can. You are encouraged to ask your host family and program coordinator for recommendations.
Do I have to bring my own bedding and mosquito net?
If you are placed with a host family, then bedding will be provided for you. However, if you are joining one of the programs based in areas which experience high humidity, such as coastal areas or the rainforest, then it is recommended you take a mosquito net, just in case.
Can I volunteer even if I don’t speak the language?
Generally, yes, but we recommend learning key words and phrases before you arrive if you don’t speak the native language. Some placements require volunteers to have a certain level of proficiency in the host country’s language, especially in Latin America, so be sure to check if this applies to your chosen volunteer work abroad.
How will I get to my project every day?
This depends on where your housing accommodations are located with respect to your abroad volunteer program. In many cases, volunteers can walk, but for others you may need to use public transportation. Talk to your project-coordinator about what to anticipate so arrive prepared with an idea of your daily commute.
Can I speak with a previous volunteer from my chosen project?
Many organizations are happy to share networking opportunities with people who have previously been a volunteered with them. If you are unable to contact anyone then use online volunteer reviews as a useful guide.
What kind of food will I eat while I’m there?
Staying with a host family during your volunteer trip abroad probably means you will get to experience traditional dishes. These vary between regions, so once you know where you’ll be placed it’s easy to research local specialties and diet.
How many hours per day will I be work?
Daily schedules vary from placement to placement, but the average is usually between 4 – 6 hours. Some projects may involve working early morning or late nights, so be sure to check what is expected of you with your volunteer organization.
Do you still have some questions? That’s A-OK. Reach out to us via email and we will respond as soon as we can to help you understand more about volunteering abroad program details.
Closing With A Few Final Words
Volunteering requires continuous flexibility, a strong sense of motivation, and a lot of patience. Choosing to volunteer internationally in a developing country is not a decision you should make lightly, nor should you travel with the intention to “teach western ways” or “rescue” people. You should partake in international volunteer abroad opportunities so that you may share your energy with people in need, experience another culture firsthand, and help yourself grow. Be ready to live like the Romans and roll with the flow as you will need to be able to cope with unexpected, local customs, environmental differences, and shortage of resources.
Final Tips For A Good Experience:
- Travel with a positive attitude and a will to learn. Treat people with love and respect.
- Accept that there are many limitations in developing countries that are beyond our control.
- Volunteer abroad programs are not luxurious. They offer you basic services.
- Volunteering is by nature service oriented. If you are choosing the abroad volunteer program as a cheap travel option, you may be disappointed as this is not a typical tourist trip.
- Volunteering is always helpful to the local community – however, you cannot always see immediate results that clearly show how you’re making difference in the world. Don’t worry if you don’t see an immediate outcome – just accept that you have contributed your time, passion, and energy for a good cause.
- If you run into any problems, please let our coordinator know immediately. They are there to help you, let them give you advice and assistance.
I certainly hope that you have found this guide helpful. Don’t hesitate to reach out with more questions or ask for information on any of the programs mentioned in this guide.
Thanks for reading and feel free to share. Happy volunteering!