Around the world, volunteering is considered a quality resume booster, but that’s not all; it can also be used to learn valuable lessons you can carry with you through your career and life.
Below, I have highlighted a list of things I learned as a volunteer and how it relates to greater lessons in life. You’ll see that, not only does volunteering look good on a resume, but it can also create a simpler, more connected world.
Top Things I Learned From Volunteering
Here are ten things I learned from different voluntary experiences I’ve had:
1. Culture Should Not Be Compared
It is common to take on a certain selfish mentality when working with people who need help, especially when the culture is very foreign to what you know. Remember that your culture is no different from any other culture, no matter how much money you have.
In both Vietnam and Indonesia I’ve adopted mentalities that I wish were more integral to American culture; from the practice of smiling in Vietnam that made me smile, to the search for instant happiness in Indonesia just by playing the drums.
2. We Don’t Need as Much as We Think
Americans have a lifestyle catered to consumerism. Everywhere we go, we are sold ideas, products, lifestyles; how much of it do we really need?
Well, I learned during several of my voluntary experiences in underdeveloped, lower economic regions that material things are not what keeps life interesting. Keeping up with the Jones’s is not a race to be in; both for financial reasons and mental health.
Instead, it is better to focus our desire for material items less. After all, it seems inconceivable how those with the most don’t rank as the happiest in the world, but that’s how our psychology works if you get stuck in the race.
3. The Butterfly Effect is REAL
One of the questions that many people ask before going on a volunteer trip abroad is, “Can I really make a difference? Yes, you can. Even small things like teaching a child the alphabet or reading a book with your toddlers can make a difference, because you can lay the foundation for learning to act in a way that has never been done before towards them.
4. A Smile is Universal
If you have ever volunteered abroad or worked in a different community than your home, you may have realized that a smile is part of a universal language. A simple smile can break down language, cultural, economic, and other barriers and bring you an interesting message. When in doubt, shine that big smile.
5. Everyone Has a Story
When you volunteer for a community in need, you realize that everyone has a story about who they are and how they got to where they are. It is important to remember that each person has their own unique story, but it is equally important to take the time to honor, appreciate and understand it. Whether you are volunteering at a nursing home, cafeteria or homeless shelter, learning about their individual situation and history can make your experience as a volunteer more intense and useful.
6. There is So Much to Learn
No matter who you are or where you go, there will always be something that someone else can teach you. Open up your mind, see things differently, and be ready for lessons you didn’t expect.
For example, this list is a perfect example of that. Though, not directly, my volunteer experiences have taught me a handful of important life lessons that I never expected to realize on my trips. If I were to guess before leaving if people on the other side of the world could teach me these things, I would’ve said ‘no way’.
Everybody has something to teach one another.
7. Don’t Take What You Have for Granted
While most people have hot showers, flushing toilets, and automatic light switches when they need them, there are many people around the world who live without them (and live happily ever after). I have never heard people in Laos complain that they don’t have hot showers, and my friends in Malaysia never complained that they don’t have a Wi-Fi hotspot. If you learn to live comfortably, you’ll see that’s not so bad.
8. Voluntourism CAN be Beneficial
There seems to be always a lot of negative press about the volunteer sector as it revolves around voluntourism, but there are really interesting projects and people working to improve conditions on the ground in both developed and developing countries. Some projects require donations or participation fees, and for organizations such as environmental projects, this helps pay local staff and raise funds for projects that are of great benefit. In Thailand, for example, where tourists love volunteering with elephants, many centers cannot survive without donations and participation.
9. Don’t Be Afraid to Suggest Your Ideas
Use your knowledge and experience to create a new project that will benefit the people with whom you work. Sometimes the answers are easier than you’d suspect. For example, one of our volunteers in Cambodia came up with the idea of building a hen house not only to help children get protein, but also to raise money by selling eggs in the market. This basic idea had the potential to significantly improve children’s health in the long-run.
10. The Importance of Community
Most volunteer projects are for the benefit of the “community”. When you participate and serve in these projects, you automatically become part of the community. This allows you to meet and learn from different people and have experiences you will never forget. Working with others promotes collaboration and social relationships. Through work exchanges, you can build trust, which strengthens relationships with others. In order to have fun, you need to experience positive social interaction.
After all, being friendly and generous leads to a more positive and charitable perception of others. This attitude leads to a better understanding of interdependence and cooperation in the social community.
A Volunteer Experience You’ll Never Forget
At CreativeVolunteer, we believe you can benefit just as much from your service as the cause you are serving. That is why we’ve catered our voluntary experiences to be whatever you make of them. There is endless potential as you are in control of your own experience.
Interested in learning more? Feel free to reach us at email@example.com.
If you are a part of an organization interested in how we can help you (pro bono, of course), consider joining our partner program and shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.