Imagine a summer vacation where you know not a single person, where every convenience that you’re accustomed to is considered by locals as a luxury enjoyed by the wealthy. Imagine vacationing in a place where you barely speak the local language, where you work and sweat more often than play; a summer vacation where the purpose is to learn, give back to the world and feel good about doing so. At first thought, this vacation may not be alluring. Now, imagine that same vacation completely paid for by someone else, adding a little money to your pocket as well. All of a sudden this summer vacation seems a bit more fascinating. For Teresa Coates, this working holiday, or what some call “voluntourism,” is a must-do every year.
“Last year, I took my two kids and spent the summer in Vietnam,” recalls Teresa. “I taught English for 12 weeks and we traveled locally on the weekends. Then we spent nearly three weeks traveling through Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia before coming back to the United States. I earned enough over those 12 weeks to pay for the whole trip.” Teresa has a bachelors degree, TEFL certificate and works full-time for Portland Public Schools; however, having a degree isn’t the most important requirement for voluntourism activities. “In some places people show up sans degrees and can find work, but I feel it’s better to be prepared,” she says.
Preparing for a working holiday begins by identifying why you want to volunteer and what you would like to get out of the experience. As well, you should acknowledge any personal limitations and consider your interests and skills. You can better prepare yourself for the experience by connecting through social networks with others who have volunteered in the same areas of the world you plan to visit.
To find voluntourism activities Teresa suggests Dave’s ESL Cafe as a great resource. Alternately, you can pick up a copy of “The 100 Best Volunteer Vacations to Enrich Your Life,” by Pam Grout. Pam’s book includes a wide array of volunteer vacations ranging from all expense paid executive programs like the IESC to inexpensive international work camps such as Volunteer for Peace. You’ll also find opportunities by searching ‘volunteer vacations’ online.
This summer Teresa will be taking her kids on a three week road trip. “I plan to write some articles and hope to hit some craft shows along the way to sell my wares,” she adds. You can read about her future and past travels on her blog.
If volunteering overseas sounds exciting, do yourself a favor and plan early. The interest in working holiday programs increase each year. Immersing yourself in different cultures can enrich your life in ways you never imagined. You will learn new and captivating traditions from cultures around the world and be able to educate your stateside friends and colleagues on your experiences abroad.
This summer season do something your entire family will learn from and give back to the world.