Have you ever asked yourself, “Is this it? Is this all there is?” There’s a big world out there, and it’s easy to feel like a tiny, insignificant cog in the world’s giant machine. If you’ve been feeling less than yourself, or like the universe is calling you to do something bigger, consider volunteering abroad. Aside from the immediate impact you’ll make on the communities you work for, your outlook on life will change – in a good way – forever.
You’ll appreciate what you have
It’s a pretty privileged life out there for many of us. We have air conditioning and regular cable and don’t really worry about taking a long shower. When all of the comforts of your cushy life are gone, you’ll realize that billions of people around the world live with much less – and are sometimes happier for it. You don’t have to sell everything you own and become a hermit, but volunteering abroad will show you that you’re pretty lucky to have what you do.
You’ll savor small pleasures
When you get home, even the smallest convenience will feel like a luxury. It could be plentiful hot water for a shower, or being able to drive or take reliable transportation to another destination. Being abroad shows you that life is about really small moments that ignite happiness, and you’ll learn to savor each of those moments as they come.
You’ll learn you’re not a slave to technology
It’s true. Your iPhone is not an extension of your body. Your volunteering experience will teach you that technology is a luxury, and that plenty of people live without it. While your friends and family will love seeing your pics and videos when you come home, taking some time away from all the screens will reshape how you look at your life. Connectedness doesn’t come from social media; it comes from being social.
You’ll love trying new things
When you’re forced out of your comfort zone, you have to try something new. New foods, a new culture and new ways of doing daily tasks will instill in you an insatiable curiosity for learning something different. You may not like everything you try, but the thrill of the unknown will keep you wanting more.
You’ll become comfortable in your own skin
Figuring out who you are is a lifelong journey. An experience abroad and doing something for others will help you carve out a little more clearly the essence of your true self. You’ll realize that you’re a pretty awesome person, just the way you were created. Allowing yourself the time to recognize, utilize and appreciate your unique skills and talents will give you confidence to face anything.
You’ll become a better listener
It can be easy to assume that your ways are the best ways. I mean, you’re going abroad to help them, right? Learning to actively listen to another point of view and actually making an effort to empathize with that view will change your life. Even if you meditate like nobody’s business and you’ve got Deepak Chopra on speed dial, you can always improve. In the end, you don’t have to agree with another’s opinion, but you’ll return a much more open-minded person if you take the time to really listen.
Your resume looks bomb
Employers like to see a well-rounded set of skills and experiences when searching for new staff. A volunteering experience – especially abroad – shows your willingness to step out of your comfort zone and an ability to think outside the box. Exposure to other cultures shows your ability to adapt and a level of tolerance that will be appreciated wherever your career takes you.
You’ll experience difficulty, and come out on the other side
Volunteering abroad won’t be a cakewalk. It will be hard. There will be doubt, and times when you want to throw in the towel and go home. But going through adversity and realizing that everything is temporary will give you a well of strength to draw on in future hard times. Plus, you’ll feel like a badass.
You’ll make lifelong friends and make a difference
Your efforts will make a difference in the lives of the people you meet. Not only within the program you volunteer, but in the friendships you’ll make along the way. The work you do will forever leave a positive impact Volunteers make up a unique community of do-gooders that take on challenging things and do their best to make it better. Once you join that community, you’ll form friendships that will last the rest of your life.
You’ll come home changed, and nobody else will get it
Experiences like volunteering abroad can’t be replicated or explained. Your friends and family will want to hear all about your trip, but they’ll never truly understand what you’ve been through. And that’s ok. A life-changing event is one that you alone can have and cherish. Being able to learn from your experiences and then share the positive light that comes from it will begin a ripple effect in your life. You’ve been changed by volunteering abroad. Now it’s your turn to be a change in your world.
Sara Sherman is a freelance writer, yogi and accidental island girl living on the island of St. Thomas. Learn more and contact Sara via her website at www.SaraMSherman.com, and read more about her island adventures at www.IslandersFromIowa.com.