Why volunteer abroad as a student? Well, to gain a well-rounded education, you need to leave the classroom. Beyond those four walls, you will find different perspectives, be inspired to learn about new cultures, languages and ways of thinking – all of which will shape your own mindset, ambitions and entire life. 

So whether you are looking to make your CV stand out from the crowd or push yourself outside of your comfort zone, volunteering abroad as a student will stand you in good stead for the rest of your life.

International Volunteer HQ is the number one choice of volunteer abroad provider for students. Wondering why?

Read on to find out how to volunteer abroad as a student and find the best volunteer program for you…

What you need to know about volunteering abroad as a student:

Best volunteer abroad opportunities for students in 2021 and 2022:

Why are volunteer abroad trips important for students?

When IVHQ asked their volunteers how the experience of volunteering abroad impacted them:

  • 83% said their sense of perspective had changed
  • 94% agreed that volunteering abroad had made them more resilient
  • 44% strongly agreed that their career aspirations had changed for the better

To find out more about how volunteering abroad will impact you, read Why Should I Volunteer Abroad?

When volunteering overseas as a student or undergraduate, you can use your time abroad to complement your studies, grow your CV and gain hands-on experience in your chosen field. But more importantly, you’ll be using your break to make a positive difference in communities in need. Experiencing volunteer work abroad will make you more open-minded, improve your understanding of the world, let you experience cultural immersion firsthand, build your language skills and could even change the course of your life!

As a student arriving at your volunteer program, you will quickly forge a bond with the other international volunteers as you roll up your sleeves together and get stuck into your project, while travelling in your downtime and sharing plenty of laughs in between. 

Many of IVHQ’s student volunteers travel solo, pushing them out of their comfort zone and growing their confidence. Many of your fellow volunteers will become friends for life and you’ll form strong connections with the local people you’ll be supporting and working with at your volunteer placement.

If you’re looking for an opportunity to grow your career and don’t think that volunteering is the right option for you, then consider an internship. IVHQ’s sister organisation Intern Abroad HQ offers flexible and affordable internship opportunities with clearly outlined learning objectives to meet your career goals or academic requirements. Both overseas and remote internships are available, meaning you can complete your internship from home alongside other commitments or combine it with an adventure abroad!

How many students volunteer abroad with IVHQ?

Around 5,000+ college students volunteer abroad with IVHQ every year. This means you can set off knowing that you will have a meaningful travel experience, as you are immersed in the local culture and have the opportunity to spend your weekends exploring with like-minded students. 

More than 114,000 volunteers have traveled with IVHQ since 2007, making it the most trusted volunteer abroad organisation.

Six ways to incorporate volunteering into your studies…

  1. Use the program to gain course credit (by enrolling in IVHQ’s Spanish Service Learning courses, or getting approval from an advisor to do so)
  2. Use your experience as the basis/subject for independent sFtudy, or your thesis
  3. Use the program as an internship, or to boost your resume
  4. Use the program for an alternative break. Consider winter, spring or summer volunteer programs for college students
  5. Volunteer as a group with your student organisation
  6. Use the program to satisfy community service hour requirements for a scholarship or membership

When can you volunteer abroad as a student?

IVHQ volunteer trips are available year-round from 1 – 24 weeks; however, if you want to align a volunteer abroad program with your study break, you can take an alternative spring, summer or winter break. 

An alternative break means you will be contributing to a meaningful project, meeting people from across the globe and exploring a new country! Check out IVHQ’s recommended programs for alternative winter breaks or alternative spring breaks.

Summer volunteer trips for students are another awesome option! Summer is 93 days long – that’s 2232 hours, or 133, 920 minutes. That’s a lot of opportunities to make a difference! How are you going to spend your next summer break?

How to find the best volunteer abroad programs for students

As with school, when it comes to volunteering abroad, research is important! You need to research the program and project you wish to volunteer on to ensure it’s going to be the right fit for you. We recommend that when choosing your volunteer project, you consider your skills and what is motivating you to volunteer abroad. Let this guide your research.

With 52 destinations and 300 volunteer projects to choose from, there’s an opportunity to suit all educational backgrounds with IVHQ. And remember, the more you know about the program, the better prepared you can be and the more meaningful your time abroad will be for both you and the community that you are immersed in.

You can fill out this quick form to get personalised program recommendations from IVHQ’s team of Volunteer Travel Experts, or keep reading to discover the most popular international volunteer opportunities for college students based on your area of interest…

NGO volunteering for students

NGO Support projects are perfect for students looking to combine volunteer travel with an internship, as working for an NGO will look great on your academic transcript and resume. Potential employers will be more than impressed with your initiative, creativity and experience from volunteering abroad. 

Volunteering as a student on an NGO Support project is the perfect opportunity to use your experience and knowledge gained from your studies to support and further establish an NGO’s goals and community reach. Your tasks can vary and are dependent on the unique skills that you bring to the table. These tasks can include administration, research, proposal writing, teaching English and IT.

Best NGO volunteer programs:

Volunteering abroad has been one of the most important choices I have ever made in my life. It changed my life forever; I want to work with NGOs more in the future. People often ask, “Why work for free? You don’t get anything.’’ I respond with, “Try it yourself and you will realise that you get a LOT.” You get something that cannot be described in words.

Marton Mengerink – Working with NGOs in Vietnam – Hanoi

Teaching volunteer opportunities for students

Education is universal and the scope for a volunteer’s influence goes far beyond the classroom. When volunteering on Teaching projects with IVHQ, you will have the opportunity to either teach independently or provide assistance and support to the local educator in traditional classrooms, community centers, special needs centers or on tutoring programs. The students you’ll be teaching are eager to participate and learn, whether it’s English, other curriculum, sports or arts and crafts.

To a university student, teaching abroad can be a learning curve that generates greater confidence, independence and understanding. Supplement your university studies and get prepared for Teaching English abroad by signing up to an online TEFL Course.

Many IVHQ programs have Teaching projects, which means teaching volunteers have a wide range of destinations to choose from.

Best Teaching volunteer programs:

My time was definitely appreciated and it made me feel happy to know my students learned something from me. This was my first time working as a teacher, it was amazing to see my students learn from me every day, and it made me realise that I am needed and I can actually do something to make changes. This was a great experience, and I will definitely do it again.

Ruobing Pan – Teaching in Sri Lanka

Medical and Healthcare volunteering for students

IVHQ’s Medical and Healthcare projects are suitable for pre-meds, students and qualified medical professionals. Volunteers aid in treating and educating patients, providing basic checkups and treatment to members of the community. The communities where IVHQ volunteers assist are appreciative of the expertise, positivity and kindhearted nature of volunteers.

Thousands of medical students turn to International Volunteer HQ to organise their medical electives abroad – not only will you have the opportunity to learn about medicine as a global entity and experience new cultures, healthcare systems and technologies, and see different conditions, you’ll be living and working alongside other international volunteers, and have the opportunity to travel with them during your free time.

For a medical group, volunteering abroad provides the ability to gain valuable experience and learning opportunities, and can even count towards course credit or service hour requirements!

Best Medical volunteer programs:

As a group it was very easy to navigate IVHQ’s information to find the best fit for us. When we arrived in Guatemala, the on-site staff provided a unique volunteer experience for our group by setting up medical campaigns in different communities. Because of this, we were able to assist several community efforts while gaining multiple perspectives on the Guatemalan healthcare system, which was one of the major goals of our trip as an engineering healthcare student organisation. While volunteering, I reaffirmed my passion for working with communities on improving healthcare; it was really inspiring to see the work the in-country team was doing.

Erik Thomas – Leader of the University of Michigan – HEAL (Health Engineered for All Lives) Group in Guatemala

Childcare volunteer programs for students

Volunteers on Childcare projects provide assistance in a range of placements and environments, ranging from after-school programs, day care centers and community centers. As a student, you have the opportunity to be involved with various duties to support the functioning of these centers that will in turn assist in your personal and professional development.

Duties can include educational support, playing games, mentoring, providing attention, cooking, cleaning and assisting with general daily operations. Duties are dependent on the specific placement but the most important aspect is supplying the children with care, attention and love. So long as you come in with an open mind and heart, you will come out the other end with more than just experience for your resume.

Best Childcare volunteer programs:

I chose this particular project because the description mentioned something along the lines of how these kids/people really just need some love and attention. And for sure, that’s exactly what they needed. It was perfectly suited to what I was hoping to get out of it. It was genuinely worthwhile for the community. Because I personally care about those people now, I want them to have more volunteers spending time with them! Though it sounds cliche, I was inspired by the kids themselves. They’re so happy to see you and they genuinely appreciate you and your presence, even knowing you won’t stay. Volunteers just need to go in there and open themselves up; they won’t be disappointed.

Laura Cook – Childcare in China

Environment and  Wildlife Conservation Projects

IVHQ’s Environment and Wildlife Conservation projects work with a range of different causes, ranging from Forest Conservation in Madagascar to Wildlife Conservation in South Africa and Wolf Conservation in Portugal. These projects will be right up your alley if you don’t mind mucking in, getting your hands dirty and being challenged. Duties and tasks vary majorly as it is dependent on seasons, the type of project you choose and the needs of the placement at the time.

For students, this is ideal if you are studying toward a scientific or environmental-based degree. The hands-on experience is priceless and will look epic on your transcript! Available in destinations all over the world, you are seriously spoilt for choice.

Best Conservation volunteer programs:

I had the best six weeks of my life on this program. I made the most incredible friends from all over the world and had an amazing time. The program gave me more than I could have imagined in my wildest dreams. I learned so much about wildlife, conservation and ecology. The work is very enjoyable…just get completely stuck in!!!

Brendan Comerford – Wildlife Conservation in Victoria Falls

Spanish Service Learning Course

Volunteer abroad and gain course credit? Where do I sign up!? Right here actually. IVHQ offers students from around the globe the opportunity to gain course credit toward their education by participating in a Spanish Service Learning Course. The purpose is to expose you to the local language and culture, broaden your perspective globally and create a sense of community.

Spanish Course available in:

You will volunteer during the day as normal, but outside of your volunteer hours you will reflect on the experience of the culture and language, reflect on your culture at home and the role of service learning. University students who are looking to fulfill language course requirements can do so while volunteering abroad in an amazing destination, while learning a new language and gaining course credit. 

Costa Rica opened my eyes to so many new opportunities I could have if I wanted to, and showed me how much love and desire I have to help the Latino culture. Also I fell in love with Spanish and after leaving being able to speak it, I know I will incorporate this into my schooling now!

Kelsey Hedberg – Spanish Service Learning Course in Costa Rica

Head to IVHQ’s website to learn more about volunteering abroad as a college student.

Categories: Features


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