Who is voluntourism for?
You! And maybe some friends or family members too. If you are fit to be traveling and have the energy to keep up with a full class of students, then you are perfect for volunteer teaching. Since there are a variety of programs, you can choose the one that best suits you.
Voluntourism for Teachers: Is It for You, Too?
What is voluntourism? Voluntourism combines being a volunteer with being a tourist and while teaching is not the only type of volunteer work associated with such trips, there are plenty of opportunities for teachers. Since being an experienced teacher is not a requirement for most programs, your expertise will come as a welcome change to the staff, teachers, and students you encounter abroad. Some programs will organize your tourist activities for you while others will leave you on your own during your free time so keep in mind what type of traveler you are when searching for the right program.
Although some volunteer projects require longer time commitments, many volunteer positions are short term lasting just 1 to 6 weeks. Since many teachers have a couple long vacations each year, it is definitely something you can fit in and something that you are in a unique position to do as many employers are not that generous with vacation time. For teachers in the United States or Canada, the longest holiday is typically during the summer whereas in other countries, they might fall elsewhere in the year. The majority of projects operate throughout the year so you can join in whenever you are free!
You can probably find a volunteer project in most places you would like to travel to but Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Africa are hot spots for such programs. Programs wanting to attract tourists are usually more centrally located and the organizers can give you any information you need before you arrive to help you prepare for your trip and the tasks that will be required of you during your stay.
Although holidays are often used to get away from work, it can also be fun teaching outside your usual setting and gives you a great excuse to travel! Seeing how other cultures view education and how schools and teachers operate can be interesting as well as educational. Whether you are new to teaching or have been teaching for decades, a new perspective can have an enormous impact on your teaching methods and you can impact your host site too. Volunteer teaching is about teaching while learning yourself. It is about giving your time, energy, and knowledge but you will most certainly gain from the experience as well.
Do your research! Many voluntourism sites require volunteers to pay quite a bit of money for the privilege of volunteering abroad. If you have the money and want to support a worthy cause, then go ahead but make sure the money is going back into the project you are volunteering for! There are also programs that will not charge huge sums of money but these can be more challenging to find. You want to find a good organization that you believe in and want to support. This is definitely the most time consuming step as there are a lot of options out there. Once you have everything arranged, you are on your way. Just remember to bring some of your own teaching materials and take time to relax while you are there too.
In 2010, I volunteered to teach at Anjali House, a school in Siem Reap, Cambodia, for about four weeks. I stayed in a hostel during that time and toured the area, including Angkor Wat, on the weekends. Although I felt unprepared and overwhelmed initially, I really enjoyed the work I did there. Working in a different school and a different country really helped me reflect on how I teach and what I needed to teach effectively. I really support the idea of technology in education, for instance, but my classroom in Cambodia had just the basic chalkboard, desks, and chairs and I think that learning can definitely occur in that environment too. Since the students at Anjali House were so eager to learn, I felt like I was able to make a greater impact than I would have in any other school. Additionally, I was so inspired by my fellow Cambodian teachers that I enrolled in graduate school when I returned to the United States later that year and am now fully committed to a long career as a teacher.
Teachers in many countries have the chance to take advantage of the exciting voluntourism opportunities out there.
As an experienced teacher, you can really make a big difference in a classroom abroad while also improving yourself and traveling!
Have you ever tried voluntourism? Tell us in the comments below!