Volunteering during your academic year may seem like a crazy idea, if not an impossible feat. You are already dealing with a hectic academic schedule, with enough assignments to keep you up until the early hours of the morning. However, the benefits of volunteering are far-reaching, and benefit not only the community, but you as well.
No human is an island unto themself. You may have heard this popular adage more than once without assigning much importance to it. The fact is, we build communities to thrive in spite of challenges. We depend on our community as much as the community depends on us. It is a two-way street that needs constant nurturing.
For international students, volunteering will help you get directly involved with your neighborhood. It will open you up to an unfamiliar culture, and help you understand the problems at the root of society. It will equip you to tackle those issues practically, instilling a sense of involvement with your surroundings. Volunteering also helps you cultivate bonds, create rich experiences and develop a few life skills on the way.
Benefits of Volunteering for International Students
Volunteering can help you gain new skills in unexpected and rewarding ways. Although you may not receive any compensation, the work you do will reap rich rewards. From improving soft skills to getting specialized training, volunteers learn a lot through their work.
Volunteering can help you build your professional network. Through the course of your time spent there, you will interact with a lot of people with good connections. Fostering a professional relationship with them can help you in your future job prospects. Additionally, you gain valid work experience that will be recognized by your future employer.
Emotional and Mental Wellbeing
Altruism has its own rewards that often go undetected. Besides having a positive impact on your community, it can directly affect your emotional and mental health. It provides a sense of purpose, boosts your self-confidence, and helps in combating depression.
Volunteering Options in the U.S.
Teaching is the most popular kind of volunteering activity in the U.S. It can also be the most rewarding. You can educate kids in your local community on various subjects. You can also find communities needing educators for adults. Make sure you have the necessary skill and desire to impart knowledge.
Most teaching-based volunteer work will require consistency and follow a basic structure. You can teach languages, arts and crafts, technical skills, or whatever else you are proficient at. Hook up with local schools and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to seek viable volunteering positions. You can also try a sports club or other recreation clubs in your area to coach young kids.
No matter how developed the healthcare industry in the U.S. is, there will always be a shortage of medical workers. Especially at times like this, when a pandemic [/covid-related-tips-for-foreigners-in-the-us/] can be catastrophic, medical workers need as much help as they can get from their community.
Talk to your local hospitals and healthcare centers to check on volunteering options. You can always participate in community immunization drives, blood donation camps, or help in day-to-day administrative tasks.
If you are an animal lover, nothing can give you more satisfaction than working in an animal shelter. Animals are the most neglected part of our society, and yet they contribute a lot to our emotional well-being. Most strays and even some pets are widely abused by the general public.
Working with animals is instantly rewarding, yet it can also be challenging. Volunteers will have many different duties, like cleaning shelters, feeding, walking the animals, medicating and treating the sick and injured, etc.
If you believe in standing up for animal rights, consider taking the first step toward their rehabilitation. Most animal shelters will require a consistent time commitment. Ensure you can carve out the required time from your schedule.
Environmental and Marine Conservation
Since human activity is the main cause of a degrading ecology, it makes sense to protect the environment you live in. Some centers offer unique opportunities found rarely elsewhere. For example, volunteering at dinosaur digs at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center. Depending on your area of residence, you can get involved in a wide variety of conservation projects. Some of them are:
- Helping in preserving and cleaning local parks and beaches
- Helping in forest conservation
- Facilitating awareness campaign in the local community
- Doing clean-up drives around your neighborhood
- Wildlife and marine life rescue, rehabilitation, and conservation
- Trail-building, and salvaging hiking trails, and eco-parks from tourist footprints
Every city will have private, nonprofit organizations working towards community development. They contribute to society, often with limited resources and funds at their disposal. Volunteering activities at an NGO can be either fieldwork or office-based, depending on your skill. You can look online for a list of local NGOs.
From working for a homeless shelter to helping out at soup kitchens, there are many ways to contribute towards community development. Every local community will have its own unique set of challenges. The goal is to create a sustainable model towards improving community living conditions. The scope of work in this field is quite varied and may require a mix of skillsets. Most of it will require you to interact with socially less-fortunate people. It is a work that requires a high degree of patience and empathy.
Elderly and Special Needs Care
This is another popular area where you can invest your efforts in a meaningful way. Every human being has the right to age with grace and dignity. Volunteering in elderly homes gives you a chance to make that happen. For countries across the globe, aging demographics pose quite a challenge, and the U.S is no different.
The same goes for people with special needs and disabilities. Often these people are left in the care of specialized centers with limited funds and resources. But working in this area is not everyone’s cup of tea. It requires training, dedication, and patience. Look for specialized centers in your locality to get involved.
Gauge Your Interest Before Getting Involved
While volunteering can be hugely satisfying in its own right, it requires a lot of commitment and dedication at the individual level. If you wish to get involved in a meaningful and sustainable way, you need to ensure you can provide the required time and effort in between your academic obligations.
Talk to your family, peers, and support group for advice. Get to know what really drives you to volunteer. Explore your interests and take up something you feel passionate about. Don’t go overboard with altruism; make promises that you can actually keep.
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