If you’re a high schooler eager to participate in community service in another country—or a recent high school graduate looking for alternate career options—now is the time to consider volunteering abroad. These international volunteer programs, which provide opportunities to engage in fulfilling work while immersing in a foreign culture, are an enriching experience for anyone. However, we believe no group benefits more from this experience more than high school students.
Table of Contents
- How to Volunteer Abroad as a High School Student
- Why Volunteer Abroad in High School?
- Tips for Finding an International Volunteer Program for High School Students
- Common Questions Students and Their Parents Have About Volunteering Abroad in High School
How to Volunteer Abroad as a High School Student
High school volunteer programs allow students to work for humanitarian or charitable causes in a foreign country, and they’re typically short-term and closely supervised. To get started on your volunteering abroad experience, determine a cause you’re passionate about, like education, health care, or the environment. Then explore volunteer programs abroad that center around that issue. If you’re not sure of an exact cause, you can also choose a program that’s based more on your personality, whether you’re looking for more of an adventure, deeper cultural immersion, or a combination of service and adventure. We have a wide variety of options at Rustic Pathways, and no matter which program you choose, you’ll gain valuable experience and make a positive impact on the world.
Once you’re enrolled in a volunteer abroad program and before you leave, you’ll typically follow these steps:
- Learn about the program in your home country.
- Attend orientations, undergo training, and get the required medical updates and documentation.
- Fundraise, in some cases, to cover your program expenses or help the cause you’ll be working with.
- Join a group of students and adult leaders and travel together to the location where you’ll live and work for the program’s duration.
When you arrive at the location of your volunteer abroad program:
- The leaders will tell you and your travel companions what to do, oversee the logistics, and ensure everyone stays safe and well-fed.
- You will receive a short-term project that is relatively safe and within your abilities.
At the end of the program, you’ll go back to your home country with volunteer experience and broader horizons.
Why Volunteer Abroad in High School?
Although there are benefits of international volunteer programs for participants of any age, we believe this experience is especially advantageous for high schoolers for the following reasons.
1. It Helps You Develop New Skills
During the program, you’ll learn:
- Project-related skills: During the program, learn several new things related to your project and will likely build upon skills that you already have.
- Leadership skills: You’ll be able to lead projects that interest you, work with others, and create and implement innovative solutions. These skills are excellent for building a career.
- Language skills: As most volunteer programs are in non-English-speaking countries, you’ll have the opportunity to acquire and develop language skills by practicing with native speakers. That is one of the most compelling reasons to study abroad while you’re still in high school, as the younger you are, the easier it is to pick up a new language. Knowing another language won’t just enrich your life, but it may also give you an advantage when taking language classes at your school—and it could make you stand out in the job market.
2. It Lets You Meet and Connect With New People From Around the World
If you decide to volunteer abroad while in high school, you’ll have the opportunity to meet many people of many different ages and backgrounds. And you’re likely to make good friends with some of them, as participating together in a shared activity is a great way to create and strengthen bonds.
3. It Helps Improve Your Confidence, Self-Esteem, Happiness, Empathy, and Compassion for Others
If you help make a difference in other people’s lives—regardless of what type of volunteering program you join—you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment and, as a result, feel more confident. Volunteer abroad projects are a win-win—you learn a skill and get the opportunity to give back to the host community.
Since most volunteer programs serve people less fortunate than we are, we become more aware and more appreciative of the fundamental privileges we’ve enjoyed our entire lives, including adequate shelter and nutrition. Once you spend time with those less fortunate, you’ll become a more empathetic and compassionate person as a result.
Another notable benefit of volunteering is that it reduces the risk of depression, which often results from being socially isolated. By participating in a volunteer program, however, you are in contact with others every day, which helps you create a reliable support network and, in turn, helps you better deal with stress and protects you against depression. Programs that involve working with animals can also boost happiness and lower anxiety and stress.
4. It Allows You to Travel and Explore Another Country and Culture
You’ve probably traveled internationally with your family. Volunteering abroad, however, allows you to experience new surroundings in a completely different way. When volunteering, you can interact with locals, who will give you insights about the culture, traditions, lifestyle, and everything else the average tourist would likely never get to experience. Volunteering abroad is a much more inclusive, in-depth traveling experience.
This firsthand cultural immersion an international volunteer program provides will help you better understand the world, and perhaps even alter the course of your life.
5. It Will Help You When Applying to College
Many high school students ask, “Should I volunteer in another country before going to college?” and “Does volunteering abroad look good on college applications?” Volunteering abroad shows you are a hardworking, compassionate person who took time out of your hectic high school life to participate in something larger than yourself. And when writing college admission essays, drawing on your volunteering experience is an excellent way to engage your reader.
Tips for Finding an International Volunteer Program for High School Students
Before exploring volunteer options, you should first consider your interests. Think about which issues you’re most passionate about, the kind of work you’d like to do, which locations interest you most, what living situation you’d prefer, and how long you’d like to be there. For example, you could volunteer for a short-term alternative spring break, or spend your entire summer abroad.
The types of international volunteer programs for students are nearly endless. There are opportunities in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the South Pacific, and in practically every category, meaning you can likely find one that is suitable for your needs and compatible with your interests. For instance, if you want to assist with wildlife conservation, Australia is a sound choice, as many local organizations there are actively working to further these causes. If you’re interested in helping families build homes, on the other hand, you may want to consider Life in the Bateyes in the Dominican Republic or the Floating Village Service Expedition in Cambodia.
Common Questions Students and Their Parents Have About Volunteering Abroad in High School
Since international summer volunteer programs send you to an unfamiliar country to work with new people, it’s only natural for you to have a long list of questions. Here are some of the most frequently asked ones.
1. Is Volunteering Abroad Safe for High School Students?
While traveling always presents some risk, Rustic Pathways has worked for nearly four decades to perfect policies that protect students health and safety during volunteer abroad programs.
To ensure a safe experience, however, you must know how to find the right volunteer abroad program—in other words, you must find a program that is reputable and responsible. You can vet programs not only with Google, but also by asking questions of the organization itself. Ask the travel company everything that comes to mind, and don’t shy away from hard-hitting questions, such as:
- Who leads the programs?
- How does the company choose its partners?
- What are its policies that protect against bullying?
- How are incidents managed?
- How will I communicate with my teen as they travel?
When you travel abroad with Rustic Pathways, the health and safety of each of our participants is among our top priorities. We have a health and safety team that is dedicated to maintaining your well-being. More than 10,000 students travel safely with us each year.
2. Is It Possible to Earn Service Hours While Volunteering Abroad?
High schools often require their students to complete a specific number of community volunteer work hours before graduation. Luckily, participation in international volunteer programs can often fulfill these work hours. If you would like to earn service hours with your volunteer program, make sure to discuss it with your guidance counselor before enrolling in the program.
We have a variety of volunteer abroad programs for high school students available around the globe. Whether you’re interested in conservation, education, health care, and more, you’ll find a wide range of options and service hour totals to choose from.
3. What Are the Best Volunteer Abroad Locations for High School Students?
If you’re eager to volunteer abroad before college, but can’t decide on a location, here are a few of the most popular countries:
- Peru: Peru’s breathtaking landscapes and numerous UNESCO World Heritage sites are just a few of the reasons many high schoolers choose to volunteer here. Since the country suffers from severe economic and social inequalities, construction projects and community development projects are popular volunteering choices. A wide variety of nonprofit organizations serve areas throughout Peru, so regardless of your volunteering interests, your opportunities here are virtually endless.
- Morocco: Although the government of Morocco has invested great amounts in improving its citizens’ living conditions, there is still a lot of progress to make in health care, education, and many other areas. In Morocco’s large cities, like Tangier or Rabat, you could work in orphanages with children or assist at schools near stunning mosques or lively bazaars. And in more rural places, you can offer assistance in fields like women’s empowerment.
- Australia: Although many assume this highly developed country doesn’t need volunteers, there are plenty of nature-related opportunities in marine conservation, environmental protection, and wildlife rehabilitation. From feeding wombats to researching in the Great Barrier Reef, there are lots of adventure to be had in Australia.
- Thailand: Although Thailand is most famous for its beautiful beaches and mouthwatering cuisine, these things merely scratch the surface of this tropical paradise. This kingdom, which is a perennial favorite of backpackers and foodies, has also become popular with volunteers, who often come to serve as English conversation partners, assist in environmental conservation, and various other projects.
4. Are There Age Restrictions for Students Who Want to Volunteer Abroad?
Volunteer programs typically have age restrictions, although these will vary from company to company and from program to program.
5. How Much Does It Cost to Volunteer Abroad?
Because volunteer programs require their participants to work, it may come as a surprise that many charge fees. However, during Rustic Pathways programs, these cover the costs associated with providing world-class travel experiences and ensuring your safety while you’re abroad. Here are some services these fees commonly cover:
- Program Leaders and local staff: Rustic Pathways employs some of the most dedicated and talented Program Leaders and local staff in the student travel industry, many of whom who have academic or professional backgrounds related to your volunteer work. These staff also provide additional programmatic support that may happen behind the scenes such as taking care of logistics or troubleshooting itinerary changes.
- Accommodation and Transportation: When you arrive in country, don’t worry about how you’ll get around or where you’ll stay. It’ll be taken care of for you.
- Food and water: Whether you’re staying at a Rustic Pathways Base House, at a carefully-vetted local guesthouse, or with a trusted local host family, you’ll always have food that meets your dietary needs whether our chefs prepare it or your group eats at well known local restaurant and access to clean water.
- Excursions and other activities: Program providers will occasionally offer fun getaways for volunteers, such as safaris or day trips to the beach, which are fantastic ways to see the country’s attractions without having to worry about the logistics. This break from working also allows you to get to know your fellow volunteers better.
If you’re curious about where your money is going, ask your organization for a breakdown of the fees.
6. Does Volunteering Abroad in High School Make an Impact on the Local Community?
Yes. At Rustic Pathways, we measure the many ways in which we make positive contributions to the communities where our students travel and publish those results in our annual Impact Report. In 2018, our students completed more than 187,000 hours of community service.
Among those hours of service, Rustic Pathways students and staff:
- built 18 new houses
- provided education enrichment support to more than 4,400 students
- served more than 7,100 meals
- cleaned more than 20,000 km of beaches
- and there’s so much more!
In 2019, we announced our company-wide alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Not only will our volunteer projects contribute to these 17 global initiatives the UN is working to address by 2030, but all decisions we make as a company will be guided by these principles created to protect the planet and its people.
Check out Our International Volunteer Programs for High School Students
At Rustic Pathways, our goal is to make positive contributions to the communities we visit through responsible travel operations and community service projects that contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. If you’re interested in learning more about our travel programs, you can request a catalog or contact us via our online form.
If you’re ready to enroll in a program, you can start by saving your spot for a specific program and date, which is available on each program’s page and allows you to reserve your place for up to three days. Within these three days, you will need to enroll in the program by completing this form, which will guarantee you have a place in the program for that particular date.
Jack has spent his professional career as a writer and editor. Before joining Rustic, he worked as a journalist in Kansas and Colorado, taught English in Swaziland, and transitioned to marketing roles in the Boston and New York startup worlds. Jack is excited to channel his love of storytelling and his appreciation for education as Rustic’s Content Production Manager. When not working, Jack is either watching baseball or planning his next adventure. Jack and his wife, Blythe, live in Brooklyn.