If you’ve been laid off, are tired of dancing the will-I-have-a-job-next-month tango, or are dreading another day in a lonely cubicle with no windows, you should know that you have options. Instead of spending your days draining your savings while you wade through every job opportunities board on the Internet (which all seem to advertise the same “earn extra cash from home” scam), why not volunteer abroad?
Seem scary and impractical? It’s not. Read on at the risk of being convinced.
1 – Make your savings last longer
The chances are very slim that 2009 will be the year you find your dream job. Instead of hanging around and watching the number in your bank account play dangerously with the color red, why not spend a few months in a country where you’ll be spending considerably less than what you spend at home?
Look at it this way:
In New York, $3 gets you a bland cup of coffee. In much of the Global South, $3 will easily finance a three-course meal, an accompanying beverage, and perhaps an ice cream for dessert.
Likewise, average rent in most cities in the United States, for example, tops $900, but living with a host family at your volunteer site will most likely not reach much above $300 (which in many cases also includes delicious homemade meals). Sub-let your apartment or rent out your house to cover your payments and run!
Looking to learn a language? This can easily be free if you can find a willing local who wants to exchange native tongues and friendship over a cup of hot chai in the evenings.
Need entertainment? Forget $12 tickets to the movies. Why not play a game of soccer or baseball with the locals (which also eliminates the need for gym fees!) or have a new friend teach you to cook some native dishes.
Use your time and your money wisely. Don’t waste either by moping around while the bills stack up. You might even be able to make enough to live on by teaching English in the evenings during your volunteer trip. Many countries have opportunities to teach that don’t require any certificates or experience; only native English and a friendly smile.
2 – Boost your resume with international work experience
When most people hear “volunteering,” they imagine playing with children in orphanages and building houses, experiences that many think only elementary school teachers and contractors would consider boasting to potential employers or clients.
But the volunteering world has advanced, and if you have the time to donate, there are literally hundreds of posts available all over the world, ranging from Environmental Conservationist, to Journalist, to Nurse, to Micro-Loan Officer. You can learn and practice many useful skills such as teaching, organizing, leading, researching, working as a team cross-culturally, and communicating in unfamiliar settings.
Look for an opportunity in your current field or in one that you secretly dream of entering. There are many local and international Non-Profits that are highly reputable and well organized and will help you get the valuable experience you need to further your career.
Putting volunteer experiences on your resume also shows that you are committed to your values, a very worthy trait in the eyes of companies looking for employee loyalty and well-rounded candidates.
3 – Get out of your rut
We all get stuck at some point in our lives. We eat the same food, watch the same TV shows, get stressed by the same things, talk to the same people. When we go through life as drones, we aren’t really living.
Take a break from the mundane and explore a new culture, new people, new food, new languages, and new places to go and see. Give the adventurous spirit that has been hiding behind a wall of complacency a good nudge and tell it to pack its bags!
There’s nothing like waking up in the morning and knowing that everything you will do that day will be something that you have never done before. If this is a feeling you haven’t experienced in years, it’s time to remind yourself what a heart racing with excitement feels like as it pounds against your chest.
Gain perspective on your life, remember the joy of being alive, and be prepare to return to your career as a more satisfied and fulfilled person.
4 – Do your part to end the crisis
Because of the globalization of markets, the financial chaos of rich countries trickles inevitably into any others involved in global trade. The President of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, has said that the current crisis has the potential to reverse the previous decade’s trend of poverty relief and in fact push up to 90 million people back into extreme poverty.
Fortunately, the reverse is also true according to a 2008 World Bank report; progress in developing economies can positively impact world growth potential even as some of the most powerful countries scramble to get their acts together.
If developed nations want to help themselves, they have to help others. You can contribute to this effort by participating in meaningful projects that expand the educational, medical and financial resources of a developing country.
Your contributions to others are ultimately a contribution to your own well-being; jobs are not going to start appearing again until there is enough cash circulating the globe to create them. You will also be working to prevent continued market crashes by promoting the entrance of more strong economies into the global arena, thereby altering the current balance of power and ensuring greater financial sustainability in the future.
5 – Reassess your priorities with your friends and family
If what’s holding you back from taking the leap is a commitment to all the people in your life, why not take them with you?
You are not the only one who could stand to learn about the value of serving others. Your children, your parents, your significant other, your best friend, your estranged basement-dwelling cousin—bring them all! Whether you go for summer break or get the kids out of public education for a year, the experience will be extremely beneficial for everyone you include.
Also, getting involved in a project as a family will strengthen your bonds, as well as give you a guaranteed perfect holiday picture that saves you the cost of a photo studio and matching green and red outfits.
Humanity has spent decades prioritizing wealth and power at the expense of relationships and charity. If there is one thing that a financial crisis it actually good for, it’s a reordering of the hierarchy of society’s values and the purging of apathy. Do this with the people you love and they will thank you for it.
All photos by Alix Farr