High School Volunteer Abroad - What You Need to Know
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High School Volunteer Abroad - What You Need to Know

Everything high school students need to know about volunteering abroad

I was once like you, a high school student eager to participate in community service in another country. Later, I became a high school graduate looking a path. If either of those sound familiar, now is the time to consider high school volunteer abroad programs.

High school volunteer abroad programs are international volunteer programs that provide fulfilling volunteer opportunities while immersing yourself in a local community overseas.

High school students join as young volunteers for community development and cultural immersion. Community service is good for everyone, but in my experience, no group benefits more from volunteer opportunities than high school students.

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How Do Teen Volunteer Abroad Programs Work as a High School Student

High school volunteer programs allow students to work for humanitarian or charitable causes in a foreign country on a short-term and closely supervised basis. To get started on your high school volunteer abroad experience, find 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 adventure, 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 community service program and before you leave, you’ll typically follow these steps:

  • Learn about our summer volunteer programs while you’re 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 one of our summer volunteer programs:

  • 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 join volunteer projects that are 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 High School Students Need Volunteer Opportunities

International volunteer programs benefit participants of any age. But, I believe volunteer experience is especially beneficial for high schoolers for the following reasons.

1. It Helps High School Students 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.

During a volunteer programs, you will learn valuable skills such as project-related skills, leadership and language skills

2. Teen Volunteer Abroad Programs Let 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 with other young volunteers 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 through volunteer projects—regardless of what type of volunteer project you join—you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment and, as a result, feel more confident. Volunteer abroad programs are a win-win—you learn a skill and get the opportunity to give back to the host community.

Since most volunteer programs serve disadvantaged people, we become more aware and appreciative of the privileges we’ve enjoyed our entire lives. Once you spend time with those less fortunate, you’ll become a more empathetic and compassionate person as a result.

Another benefit of summer volunteer programs is that they reduce the risk of depression. 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. Summer Volunteer Programs Help High Schoolers to Travel and Explore Another Country and Culture

Maybe you’ve 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. Teen volunteer programs are a more inclusive, in-depth traveling experience.

This firsthand cultural immersion on teen volunteer programs 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 volunteer opportunities is an excellent way to engage your reader.

Volunteering abroad shows you are hardworking and compassionate

Tips for Finding an International Volunteer Program for High School Students

Before exploring summer volunteer opportunities and 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 with other volunteers to further these causes. If you’re interested in environmental conservation, on the other hand, you may want to consider Marine Life and Coastal Restoration in the Dominican Republic.

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 young volunteers’ 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 volunteer accommodationprogram 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. throughout service trip 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 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 high school students abroad volunteer program, make sure to discuss it with your guidance counselor before enrolling in the high school volunteers’program.

We have a variety of volunteer abroad programs available around the globe. Teen volunteers can find 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?

What are the best locations to volunteer abroad in high school

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. There are lots of adventures to be had in Australia.
  • Thailand: Thailand is famous for its beaches and cuisine, but in my experience these things scratch the surface of this tropical paradise. Thailand is not only a favorite of backpackers and foodies, but also popular with teen volunteers. High school volunteers in Thailand often assist teachers as English language partners at local schools, join program staff in wildlife conservation efforts or join other volunteer projects.

4. Are There Age Restrictions for Students Who Want to Volunteer Abroad?

Volunteer programs typically have age restrictions, although these will vary from teen volunteer program to 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 of service trips 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 BaseHouse, 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 program fees start 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 fifty volunteer trips and 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 do our community 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 a volunteer trip or interested in learning more about our travel programs, you can request a catalog or contact us via our online form.

Request a free catalog about Rustic Pathways student volunteer programs abroad


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About the Author

Jack Weinstein

Content Production Manager

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.