Summer can be used as a time to recharge your batteries and relax until the next school year comes. Although taking time for yourself is important, when you study abroad you want to make sure you are maximizing your experience. You may accomplish this by traveling, working or taking summer classes. However, the US also provides great volunteer opportunities that allow you to give back to the community. Volunteering as an international student will expand your horizons and introduce you to a new part of the US culture. Not only does volunteering help you meet new friends, but it shows potential employers or scholarship panels that you care about your community.
Here are a few tips on choosing a volunteer program and some examples of volunteer activities.
How to begin?
- Play to your strengths: What interests you the most? Do you like the outdoors and environmental conservation? Would you prefer to be helping children, women, or the elderly? Or are you interested in community development and politics? Decide on an area of interest and find out what skills or experience you could offer these groups.
- Gather information: Once you’ve decided on what type of organization you’d like to volunteer for, start calling around. Locally, you will find many groups that would love to have you as volunteer. You can also use United Way to find groups near your house or campus. As you contact organizations, ask if they have any specific policy around international students volunteering and what type of skills you’ll need to help them. If you aren’t sure where to start, your Student Union should have more information on student volunteer organizations around campus and will be a great place to begin your search.
- Figure out the “why?“: Volunteerism, or community service, is highly valued in the US. However, really think about what is driving you to volunteer. Some volunteer projects are more attainable than others. Find out if you are willing to put more effort into obtaining more challenging opportunities. Also, be honest with yourself- how much free time will you have to invest in community service work?
- Still having trouble? Here are some volunteer suggestions to get you started:
- Working at a food pantry or soup kitchen
- Tutoring students
- Presenting about your country and culture at events or schools
- Cleaning a beach or park
- Walking or playing with dogs at a shelter
So many options!
Once you’ve narrowed it down to a type of volunteer work you’d like to do, make sure you try different organizations within that area of interest.
For example, if you like teaching, Teach for America is a great program that accepts international students and exposes you to a challenging classroom setting in low-income communities. If you prefer to create awareness for earth’s natural resources, Appalachian Trail is a group that offers many environmental workshops throughout the year. If you are an animal lover, Petfinder can help you find local animal shelters that will welcome your eagerness to help pets in need.
There is much to be gained from any volunteering experience. You will help improve a great cause, develop your leadership skills, strengthen your English and communication skills, meet new people and make new friends!