When we think about working for a specific “cause” or engaging in civic work or engagement, our focus oftentimes extends as far as the boundaries of our cities or states. Indeed, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved and to do great work in your own area, but, isn’t there something that is especially intriguing about the exotic? Do you ever dream about traveling to new and interesting places? How about interacting with foreign peoples who are excited to share their unique cultural experiences and differences with you? If you can’t stop watching The Travel Channel and want to combine your penchant for jet-setting with your call to serve, consider some of the different ways that you can make these passions a possible profession.
Volunteering on an outreach trip abroad
Everyone has seen the pictures on social media sites. A friend who looks like they are having a blast in some distant land, while also working to improve the lives and/or living conditions of a certain population. Thankfully, there are countless opportunities to engage in this work on a short-term basis in many areas around the world. (If you are a college student, talk with your academic advisor or contact your campus’s study abroad office for information.) Additionally, the types of outreach projects and missions are diverse, so you should easily be able to find a program or venture that is a perfect fit.
Working for an internationally-based third sector organization domestically
If you want to assist with the promotion and furthering of the interests of those in other countries while remaining in the United States, you may want to consider working for an internationally headquartered NGO (or non-governmental organization, as they are oftentimes called in the United States and in other parts of the world) that has a presence in the U.S. One Acre Fund is a good example of such an organization. In many cases, these organizations will have partnered with some group in the U.S. to the extent where it is easier to facilitate U.S. operations, in relation to the organization’s operations, from within the country. This may especially be true if the organization is supported by a significant amount of volunteers and other personnel from the United States. This kind of work is perfect for those who want to experience working with an international organization and with like-minded professionals from other countries who don’t necessarily want to leave the United States (yet!).
Working for a domestic, internationally-focused third-sector organization domestically
Working with domestic NGOs that have international focuses is similar to working with internationally-headquartered organizations in a number of ways, although the differences can be significant. The good news: There are exponentially more opportunities that exist for this kind of work with so many more domestic companies, for obvious reasons, having significant presences within the U.S. For example, Mercy Corps is based in the U.S. but offers many global ways to serve. However, staffs are not likely to be quite as diverse due to this fact, and operating and other structures/policies will more closely resemble what is popular with other types of domestic third-sector organizations. Of course, this isn’t a bad thing by any means and working with one of these organizations can be a great introduction into the area of international nonprofit work. Check out this chart for tips on picking the right volunteer organization!
Working for a domestic, internationally-focused third-sector organization abroad
Are you ready to put your passions for service and travel together for an extended period of time? If so, working with a U.S.-based third-sector organization that works directly with international populations or in any number of other countries is an excellent choice. In addition to serving a multitude of interests and targeting different areas of perceived need, these organizations collectively possess a plethora of different management structures that create endless placement and job areas, as well as compensation packages. While many of these opportunities are offered on a purely volunteer basis (generally with some kind of housing or travel allowance), others are professionally-staffed positions, including a salary and even benefits packages. Some organizations will even assist with relocation costs! Most important, the support system and general presence that these organizations possess will ensure that your needs will be met throughout the duration of your service and their special knowledge of the unique needs and priorities of international workers ensures a great degree of empathy.
Do you see yourself teaching English to school children in rural Bolivia? How about helping to coordinate and process asylum documents for refugees? Do you want to make a difference by helping to rebuild an aging orphanage in Eastern Ukraine? If any of these activities (or countless other meaningful ventures) excites you, consider the area of international nonprofit work!