It’s that time of year again. The summer holidays are almost upon us, and dissertation doom and exams will be relegated to the darkest depths of our memories. You might be planning your post-exam lads’ tour of Ibiza or, if you are a final-year, you are probably slightly crapping yourself at the prospect of soon entering into the ‘real world’ and getting a proper job. For those of us totally stumped as to what that proper job will entail, there are plenty of short-term ways in which we can spend our post-university limbo months (or years) seeing the world and gaining some valuable skills, cash and experience. This issue, the Impact Travel Team helps you to decide which way is for you!
Volunteering abroad…where do you start? With hundreds of different companies to choose from and a multitude of projects, it’s no wonder most people looking to volunteer overseas find it confusing. To successfully go on the trip of a lifetime, however, it is important that you choose wisely.
Three very broad distinctions can be made between the types of volunteer companies that exist. There are those that are obviously profit driven, in that very little of the money you pay goes to helping those in need and the price you pay overall can be exceptionally high. At the other end of the spectrum there are those companies that are clearly not-for-profit, registered non-governmental organisations (NGOs): for these, you are usually only expected to pay for your flights, food and board. Then in the hazy bit in between, there are those that toe the middle line, who charge you a reasonable amount for volunteering, keeping some of the money you pay to cover their running costs, with the rest invested in the voluntary project. Whichever you choose is entirely up to you, but the glaringly obvious choice for someone who wishes to ‘volunteer’ would be to avoid the big commercial giants whose business ethos can often seem far from altruistic; many volunteers will leave these feeling that they have been ‘placed for the sake of it’ into projects that have little benefit for the host country.
As usual, however, there are two sides to every coin, and there are some distinct advantages to booking a voluntary project with one of the bigger companies such as GVI or Frontier. These projects are likely to benefit from more in-country support, safety regulations and trained personnel, all of which may be compromised on one of the more informal NGO voluntary projects. If you’re looking for uniqueness, NGOs certainly have the upper hand, as you may find you are not bound by any activity timetabling and will often end up as one of only a handful of volunteers.
In terms of making your choice, a good place to start is the internet, and somewhere amongst the waffle of most company websites you should find out just how much of the money you’re paying will go to the cause you intend to support. Can you really justify going away on what might turn out to be an ill-organised, 6 week, glorified holiday, where over half of the money you spend goes into the pockets of a large commercial company? If you don’t fancy going it alone, sites such as volunteeringdirectory.com provide lists of international volunteering projects all in one place. Reviews of many of the companies can also be found littering the internet, from disgruntled volunteers wanting to vent their anger on Facebook groups, to praise and positive feedback on various travel review websites.
A few words of wisdom to end; it is worth noting that the longer trips and those which require qualifications or an interview prior to volunteering tend to be the most beneficial. Think carefully about your impact as a volunteer, as there are many companies which put your interests above those that you are supposed to be helping. Does the inconsistency between volunteer-teachers disrupt a child’s learning, as each new group repeat or miss out parts of the curriculum? Will you be properly trained in how to teach? Might you be taking the place of a local member of the community who is just as capable and willing to do the job themselves? And will cuddling lion cubs really help to conserve their dwindling numbers?
TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) courses allow you to teach English all over the world. You can choose your ideal country, get free accommodation and food and perhaps even better pay than you might earn in a minimum wage job here. Not only to do you get to fully immerse yourself in a country’s culture and people, but you can earn a fair bit too! It seems like a win-win situation, especially if you consider the fact that employers look favourably on these qualifications as it shows that you have worldly experience, have given something back to a community and are used to a working day routine. But will you be you giving back as much as you get?
One issue with these jobs is that the contracts only last about twelve months, meaning that the students lack the consistency of one teacher with one set of teaching methods; this could lead to an overlap, where the students are taught the same thing by different teachers. There are, however, huge benefits to having good English teachers abroad. English is quickly becoming a global language, and its usefulness to people from all over the world is undeniable. People who speak English can travel with greater ease as well as contribute to the tourist economy of their locality, which also equal greater job prospects. A TEFL certificate allows you to teach both adults and children, and so contributes to a community’s present and future.
In England you generally need an undergraduate degree and at least a years teaching experience to get a fully-fledged job in a school. TEFL courses however, can be taken in a matter of days, and online too. This means that they go into far less depth and that students are supervised less than they would be on a degree course. Similarly, the grammar section of the course is only a recommended extra and is not compulsory. While you might use English grammar patterns everyday in your conversations, explaining and teaching grammar is a whole new kettle of fish. Some of the courses, for example the 20 hour TEFL course, are not accepted in all countries or by all institutions, so be careful which course you choose to take. Most good TEFL courses offer a combination of online and classroom teaching with some grammar work included. You need to be looking at a course with at least 100 hours of teaching time in order to secure the best jobs abroad. One in particular, the CELTA course (Cambridge ESOL Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages ), trains you to be able teach adults. There is a minimum of 120 contact hours and you will have your teaching ability assessed – this course is one of the pricier options, but is certainly worth investing in.
Pick a course not because it is the cheapest, quickest or easiest option, but because you think it will give you the best skills possible and will be recognised by your prospective employers. Then, hopefully, you will be able to give your students as much as you gain yourself.