Volunteer abroad instead of studying abroad

Kathleen Keaveny

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Studying abroad as a college student has been becoming more popular and available. Students take wine tasting classes in Florence, art history in Prague and Spanish language in Colombia. With the increasing amount of study abroad programs and options, students are fleeing the United States to obtain an education and experience in a foreign country.

The benefits to studying abroad are plentiful. Acquiring language skills, making global connections and participating in a different culture are all perks that come along with studying abroad. However, there are potential downsides to study abroad.

For example, studying abroad can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000, depending on the time of the year a student chooses to go, the location, the length of duration and the program a student is enrolled in. There are additional costs, such as weekend excursions, meals out and souvenirs.

Although most study abroad programs offer excursions, time off to travel and immersion opportunities, there is time spent in the classroom with other American or study abroad students. Getting a full abroad experience is becoming fully immersed in the community where you are living and studying.

Although studying abroad is an investment that creates memories, strengthens language skills and adds connections, there are other options to gaining those experiences and perks if you are not sure if study abroad is the right choice for you.

Volunteering or working abroad is a positive alternative to studying abroad. There are organizations that focus on medicine, education, farming, building homes and more.

Volunteering abroad is an opportunity for students who have a budget, a desire to become immersed in a community, the impulse to benefit developing communities and to gain travel experiences.

These volunteer programs are an investment in one’s own experience of gaining language skills or making connections abroad, but more importantly, one can invest in a community and those who live there. Volunteer programs are run through volunteer commitments, which are fees to help fund the volunteer experience that the communities one will be volunteering for cannot support. For example, World Teach often requires these volunteer commitments to cover emergency evacuation insurance, a monthly stipend, housing, transportation and more. These fees are often significantly less expensive than study abroad tuition.

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World Teach is a program in which volunteers teach in developing countries. Not only are these volunteers aiding in building up and benefitting these communities, but volunteers also obtain skills in leadership, language, cultural knowledge and teaching.

There are also programs that offer food and lodging in exchange for work. A popular organization is World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, where volunteers work on organic farms around the world. WWOOF is in almost every country, offering opportunities to gain knowledge and experience in organic farming and community immersion.

With any volunteer or study abroad opportunity, it is important to research where you will be, the itinerary, the people you will be living with and the culture you will be a part of.

Studying abroad is an amazing experience that all students should consider, but it is not the right choice for everyone. Volunteering abroad provides many opportunities and benefits that studying abroad offers, and more.

Collegian Interactive News Team member Kathleen Keaveny can be reached at socialmedia@collegian.com or on Twitter @katkeaveny.