Students currently attending, or having recently graduated, post secondary institutions are living a very important period in their lives defined by many attributes. Millennials, or Generation Y, are said to be troubled by academics, corporations, policy makers, and media outlets alike. They are said to be addicted to social media, in debt, unable to afford housing, and growing up through years stricken with environment degradation and political strife. Doesn’t sound so great. However, among these critiques, young adults today are filled with the desire to travel with purpose; to participate on voluntourism trips.
Our blog is a rich portfolio of students’ accounts of life changing experiences on SOS Outreach Trips. They are amazing reads, and even better experiences, but there is a need to recognize that young adults are increasingly questioned regarding their motivations to participate on such trips.
Reading this blog may be a student interested in volunteering with us, or a similar organization, perhaps a parent, guardian, or a loved one of a trip participant. Perhaps you are a teacher, an alumni of one of our chapters, or a lover of blogs. Whatever your motivation is for coming to this post, thank you. There are two sides to every story and we would like to share ours. In conjunction with the posts already published on our blog, we have culminated a comprehensive list of the benefits of participating on an experience that combines travel and volunteer work.
The benefits of participating on an Outreach Trip fall into two categories. The first are common among voluntourism organizations, that is, benefits experienced by all young people who embark on a voluntourism trip. This is not to suggest that these benefits are unimportant because they are common -imagine if we had that same mentality sunshine or smiles. Rather, the following are the benefits that can be found on many voluntourism trips.
- Meet New People
Volunteers meet upwards of twenty people on the course of their Outreach Trips. This stems from on campus representatives, Head Office staff, fellow volunteers, and community members and staff from our organizational partners in a volunteer’s host country. Meeting all these people is just the tip of the iceberg, as everyone participating in an Outreach Trip, from campus to country, shares a common desire to work together for sustainable development projects. This sets the foundation for life long friendships.
- Learn and/or Practice a Foreign Language
Being able to develop another language is an unparalleled asset in today’s world. Disintegrating boundaries and increased connectivity results in a high demand for those who can communicate in diverse ways.
- Develop Skills
Voluntourism trips allow volunteers to develop their leadership, teamwork, communication, creativity and much more. Some volunteers will build upon existing skills; strengthening them and providing real world application. Others will learn an entirely new set of skills that will help them to succeed after the trip.
- Visit a New Country
Perhaps the most cited benefit of voluntourism is the ability to travel to a new country. Traditional working hours in North America are spent volunteering, allowing evenings and weekends to be spent in the community.
Again, the commonality of these benefits are not to say they are unimportant. They are very, very important. The benefits of voluntourism detailed below however are of a different caliber. They are certainly not quantifiable; one can count the number of heritage sites visited or friends they have made, but not the recognition of oneself in a worldly context. They are benefits that are hard to articulate in any form –advertisements, documentaries, blogs- and what follows is a decade long attempt to provide voluntourism with the recognition it deserves.
- Bring Perspective
Voluntourism trips cause an awakening. What volunteers believed to know about the world and their place in it is changed dramatically. Travelling to a developing country forces participants to recognize their own privilege and biases, and makes them recognize how their own personal history has formed the stereotypes they hold so dearly, often unconsciously.
- Demonstrate Solidarity
As an Outreach Trip progresses and participants begin to deconstruct their biases and worldviews, they come to recognize that they, along with their host community, share a common humanity. They realize that many of them were taught to see the world as divided. Divided by what can only be stated here, in our limited time together, as vast differences in a quality of life. Participation in a voluntourism trip demonstrates to host communities that there is a recognition and concern for the inequalities they face.
- Reassess Motivations and Expectations
The motivations that brought you to our blog, our website, or this article reflect your interest in either participating on a voluntourism trip or the voluntourism industry. If you fall into the former category, your participation on an Outreach Trip will greatly impact your reasons for wanting to go on one in the first place. Many participants come back with one of two attitude shifts. The first being; “I won’t change the world” or “I can’t change the structural, political, economic problems in x country”. This confuses many as voluntourists are commonly known for wanting to do exactly the opposite of these statements. But past participants can testify to the fact that a voluntourism trip puts into perspective what they can, and cannot, do to assist those in other countries. The second shift many participants go through is; “how can I assist from my home country?”. For a vast number of reasons voluntourists want to continue on career paths and futures in their home countries. They also want to continue supporting their host communities through a myriad of different channels. Many voluntourists continue to support while living in their own homes.
- Improve Cross Cultural Awareness
A common critique of voluntourism trips is the notion, speculation, that affluent volunteers are eager to learn about their host community, challenges and triumphs, exchange nothing with them, and then return home and continue on with their lives. It is possible for this to happen. On a voluntourism trip, participants and leading staff from involved organizations need to facilitate a cross cultural exchange. A common trend among past voluntourists is their strong assertion that their trip led them to learn a lot about their host country and their home country. Challenges and triumphs. Participants learn that membership into humanity means that everyone faces structural challenges in their communities. And while the scale and scope of these issues differ, voluntourism trips awaken participants to the problems in the communities they visit and the communities in their backyards.
Generation Y is facing a lot. Many millennials have a strong desire to participate on voluntourism trips but do not know how to accurately convey the benefits of doing so, especially in the face of numerous critiques. Among the benefits above voluntourism trip participants emerge as leaders in their communities who will not stand for social injustice. They are critical thinking, outspoken, driven, and empathetic young people. There are no better candidates than these to lead the next generation into sustainable and meaningful future.