People choose to volunteer for a variety of reasons. For some it offers the chance to give something back to the community or make a difference to the people around them. For others it provides an opportunity to develop new skills or build on existing experience and knowledge. Regardless of the motivation, what unites them all is that they find it both challenging and rewarding. The added benefit in a foreign country where you are trying to learn the language is that you will find yourself completely immersed in the culture and language with everyone learning about each other’s cultures. You will have to pick up specific vocabulary quickly in order to communicate with those around you.
Many Language Gappers included volunteering as one part of their Gap Year or time abroad. It is a good idea to invest in some training first, however. A month’s immersion in a language school will help you get used to the local customs, timetable and language in preparation for a volunteering post. Another idea is to take an English Language teaching course (TEFL) which we can arrange for you in your home country or abroad at an accredited centre, and this also only takes a month. If you are intending to work with children, it is worth investing in First Aid training; these are cheap and widely available from various organisations, and The Language Gap can point you in the right direction. If you are intending on working in the developing world, we highly recommend taking a Gap Safety Course which will help you prepare you for the culture shock, health and personal safety issues before you go.
The costs to volunteers vary enormously. There are situations when you only need pay your travel to the location, and in return for your work you are provided with bed and simple meals. Sometimes you are asked to contribute to living costs, and can live in safe, basic volunteer accommodation for as little as £25 per week. Other programmes ask for a charitable donation of around £2000 for a 3 month volunteer post. This will cover your living costs, administration of the organisation and pay for equipment, upkeep, and other provisions for the programme. The Language Gap knows of some excellent programmes where training is included and can be followed by an internship. These can be more expensive, at around £5000-£6000 for 6 months. However, you will come out of these highly qualified to launch yourself into the world of work. In every case, we will give you guidance and advice with several suggestions of programmes to suit your interests and budget.
Here are some of our top favourite volunteering positions that we’ve recently found while on the neverending hunt for the perfect language learning experience overseas. All the programmes can be combined with formal language learning before and during the volunteer placement. Take a look at what we found:
After school club and community centre work in Santiago, Chile (Spanish): work in the exciting city of Santiago to help the development of underprivileged children, guiding them through the formal education system, and successfully breaking the cycle of poverty. In addition to the academic support provided for the children with loads of fun workshops, volunteers have the opportunity run workshops in any area they’re interested in (sport, art, music etc.).
Join a refugee cultural integration programme in Germany (German or Palestinian Arabic): This programme includes accommodation with a host family. This will help you understand and experience the local culture whether you stay with a German family or an Arab family. During your homestay, you will be able to spend time with them and immerse yourself into their daily lifestyle and routines. You can learn either German or Arabic with three hours’ worth of classes a week. Not only is this a great opportunity to learn from an excellent teacher, but also to practice your language with the locals or the refugees. This is a low cost programme!
Teach English, Conservation and Farming in the Cloud Forest of Ecuador (Spanish & Quechua): A great chance to experience life in a remote, beautiful Andean community, sharing your own values and lifestyle with local people, and learning about theirs. This is your chance to make a difference, helping local people (and yourself) to make the most of life, through cultural interaction, teaching and/or shared farming and ecological activities.
Teach English in Haiti and live in a eco community resource centre (French & Creole): This programme supports community members in renewing their communities with their own ideas and goals, ultimately strengthening Haitian society through a bottom-up approach to development. Haiti is an incredibly vibrant country with a beautiful culture, wonderful people and spectacular geography. It is also the poorest country in the Western hemisphere and one of the most politically fragile countries. This is not an option for the faint hearted, but it could be one of the most valuable. This is a low cost programme!
Rugby coaching in Buenos Aires, Argentina (Spanish): on this volunteers work in local communities to promote and coach rugby to kids at sports centres and also to coach a young rugby team in the evenings. Accommodation is in a friendly volunteer house, and Spanish lessons are provided as part of the programme. Other sports coaching placements are available all over the world if rugby isn’t your thing (tennis, football, lacrosse, horse riding, martial arts).
Farm work on Organic Farms all over the world (just name your language): volunteer with organic farmers and growers to promote cultural and educational experiences based on trust and non monetary exchange, helping to build a sustainable, global community. As a volunteer you will live alongside your host helping with daily tasks and experiencing life as a farmer in exchange for a bed and simple meals. You can choose from many different types farms, both with and without animals. This is hard work, but very low cost!
There are just so many options out there, and there are so many ways to give some of your time to help others, share and learn skills, and do something to grow as a person. The Language Gap will go out there and find the right experience, organisation and language learning support for you. You’ll have all the preparation and back up you need for your trip, and expert advice at every point of planning, during and after your adventure abroad. Just get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org