I’d like to talk about one of the loves of my life, international volunteering and travel. Yes, before you ask, I do volunteer locally as well (New York Cares). The last 5ish years of my life have been shaped around international volunteering. Travel has become one of my greatest passions, and I think it’s important to reflect on why I do what I do, why I quit my corporate job to work for a non profit, and why all my vacations have now become volunteer trips. My philosophy is, whatever you do- do something to help someone else- in your own country or abroad. That being said, there is something so special, almost magical, about experiencing another culture, stepping out of your comfort zone, and volunteering abroad.
First of all, the fact that an American or anyone really from the Western world would came out of there way to help someone from a developing country is meaningful. It says, yes, you matter, and I’m delighted to give my time and resources to help you. I give my time, my compassion, and my understanding. I might be able to teach someone something that may change their life.
Second, I’ve learned through volunteering abroad how to overcome cultural barriers that prevent us from understanding each other. Yes, language is a large barrier, but it’s possible to communicate without words and transcend language. I taught English in India for about a month to Hindi speaking women and over that time developed the deepest affection for them. I made it a point to remember their names, smiled at them at every possible opportunity, and found ways beyond language to show them I care. We are all not that different after all. Do we not all want to be understood, loved, and cared for?
Lastly, it empowers you to really learn about another culture and experience life, side by side, with someone else. You share daily struggles, smiles, and gain insight into the lives of others, that you previously might have had nothing in common with you. Being uncomfortable is a stepping-stone of growth. I’ve experienced immense personal growth by immersing myself in other cultures. I’ve learned that my way isn’t necessary ‘right’ and just how valuable flexibility and open mindedness is.
So, whoever you are and whatever you do- travel. Do something to help someone else. The world is so big. There are kind, generous, amazing people who dedicate their lives to helping others everywhere and I want to be part of it.