The world is falling into an ever deeper economic crisis, you’ve had enough of your job, now is not the time to start a business, you’ve no dependents, and you feel that there is more to life than simply joining the rat race.

Now is probably the perfect time to think about taking a year out and volunteering abroad. Not only is there a constant need for experienced help, but as the focus of the world shifts from disaster to disaster on a cyclical basis, the stories behind the headlines are very real – and very constant. Just because the newspapers stop talking about a particular crisis, that doesn’t mean it has gone away.

Quite the opposite. Often people are struggling just as much, if not more!

Take a break from the grindstone

Volunteering abroad is a way of experiencing the world and other cultures in a way that is deeply ingrained with the local community. Often, depending on the organisation you volunteer with, food and accommodation will be included. Sometimes it is in hostels, but it can also be with local host families. 

This allows you to truly assimilate with the local community, start to learn their language, and get to understand on a daily basis their way of life and the challenges they face every day.

Often this ‘culture shock’ is just what you need to break away from the grind of every day life, helping you to put into perspective what life can be like for those in different communities, and the reliance that they have on external aid agencies to subsidise their way of life.

Get yourself out of your comfort zone

It can be a scary thing, to up sticks and move to another country completely, and immerse yourself in their community. Too often the grindstone can keep you trapped in a cycle of paying the bills, climbing the ladder and strapping yourself to and ever increasing burden of debt.

We stay in this situation because it is easier to stay in the pain and discomfort that is familiar, than risk stepping beyond this into new potential pain. Recognising that we do this is the first step. The second step is to break the cycle and do something new. Jacking your job in, and signing up to a few months working on an elephant sanctuary (even if you are paying for the privilege) is an amazing way of pushing those boundaries and finding yourself again. 

Contribute to conservation

If you have some funds saved up, then many charities around the world operate paid for programmes in which you can pay for the privilege of working with some incredible conservation organisations, and help them financially in their work. 

It is crucial that the ‘volunteering abroad’ industry is run as just that – an industry, a business which needs to account for its receipts and outlays. Bad financial management is not an excuse for some of these organisations, and they rightly have to make sure their receipts reflect their goals and aspirations.

A fair exchange of value

As well as being able to offer your own vital skills and knowledge to the organisation you are volunteering with, you also have the opportunity to take home with you a raft of experience, expertise and knowledge that you have learnt from them. This fair exchange of value is what keeps people returning to volunteer with their favourite organisations, often year after year. This who manage to push themselves out of that comfort zone always report back saying that they have grown as individuals, and are able to use this real lived experience and knowledge and take it back to a much more satisfying second stage of professional development.