Reclaiming Voluntourism (a.k.a., Voluntourism Done Right)

Reclaiming Voluntourism (a.k.a., Voluntourism Done Right)

Vo·lun·tour·ism (n.): When a person, usually young, goes to another country to volunteer their time and effort, while taking that opportunity to tour a new country.

Sounds innocent, right? Not so fast! Do a quick Google Search for “voluntourism” and you quickly arrive on a horror of apocalyptic proportion.

‍Really? “Beware the voluntourist”? Really??

To be fair, they raise some good points. However, voluntourism by itself isn’t a bad concept, even if it’s been badly executed in the past. Here are a few tips for making sure your voluntourism experience is a great one! 

1) Choose a cause that you care about. And then research!

When researching non-profit organizations to volunteer for, try to find a cause that you care about. A lot of that will be making sure that you do the appropriate amount of research. Try to make sure that you’re volunteering with a reputable nonprofit that isn’t just a tourism trap.

The *: AIESEC allows all our volunteers to filter volunteer opportunities by cause. Our causes are based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We also vet all our partner organizations to make sure that they're actually helping the community in measurable ways.

2) Go as local as you can.

When it comes to volunteering, the more local the organization, the better. That’s because local organizations know better than large international ones exactly what their community needs, and how to get it. These projects are more likely to be specific and individualized, and have a greater impact. You also get to have a deeper bond with the organization, as oftentimes you’ll be working alongside the founders!

The *: AIESEC’s projects are never solely organized by AIESEC alone – we always work with a local organization to create projects.

3) Be prepared to spend a decent chunk of time.

It’s important to realize that three days of volunteering probably isn’t going to make that big of a difference to the nonprofit you’re working with. Try to plan for at least two weeks, and if you can, even longer, so that you can be properly trained in what the organization needs, and then have the time to actually make a difference.

The *: AIESEC has 6-12 week volunteer projects that are designed to allow volunteers to make the greatest impact possible, by working with nonprofit organizations to identify where they need the most help.

4) Lend your strengths, not your weaknesses.

This probably goes without saying, but your biggest skill is probably not construction – although if it is, go for it! Otherwise, steer away from projects like building a school, or other jobs that you may not be qualified for. Just like when you're applying for a job, you'll be able to make the biggest impact by contributing your strengths - not your weaknesses. The important thing to keep in mind is that you want to lend the most helpful skills you can – whether that be event planning, marketing, or simply speaking English.

In other countries, English teachers are in high demand, and free English teachers even more so, because being able to speak English gives their students a competitive edge in this ever more competitive market. 

The *: AIESEC has hundreds of projects centered exactly around teaching English! These projects range from having students who are in kindergarten to adults who are trying to expand their career prospects.

5) Plan your tourism around the volunteering, not the other way around.

To make sure you make the most out of your volunteering experience, try to schedule your traveling around the volunteering schedule, so that you’re not missing volunteering days to have fun. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun! Most volunteer programs don’t have 40 hour weeks – they’re usually closer to 20, because the organization realizes that you’re donating your time. There’s still plenty of time left for touristing and having fun, just do it in your off time. Even better, plan a trip before or after your volunteering project!

The *: When organizations choose to work with AIESEC, they factor in their volunteers’ status in designing an agenda, and make sure that there is plenty of off time. They also often organize tours and events throughout the city and throughout the project to make tourism easier for you, and make sure you get all the best deals and experiences!

So there you go! Hope that was helpful :) If you'd like to go abroad through AIESEC, check out our opportunities at:

Sara Guan

Hi! I'm a junior at Baruch College, minoring in English. The craziest thing I've ever eaten was snake blood pudding, and I like really spicy food. I've lived in Shanghai and New York City, and I've visited cities in Canada, Mexico, Turkey, Italy, Russia, the Netherlands, and Belgium. I also like to make crocheted stuffed animals.