Excerpted from â€œVolunteer Abroad,â€ by Jemilah Magnusson for TheGreenGuide.com:
With summer in the air, itâ€™s time to stretch our legs, get away from work or school and rediscover the world and ourselves. And in this rediscovery, helping others can play a large part. While still a senior in high school, Stephanie Wilks heard the call for volunteers at Kenya’s Maasai Centre for Field Studies. She leapt at the chance and spent her vacation teaching English to African schoolchildren and helping organize eco tours for other visitors. From home visits among the Maasai tribe to scouting for local medicinal plants, â€œthe point was not to be spectators, but to meet people and have conversations,â€ Wilks says. The experience sparked an interest in volunteering that has blossomed into a career: Wilks now works for World Culture Open, a non-profit organization which fosters intercultural understanding.
Wilks isn’t alone in finding volunteer experiences life-changing. For many travelers, the smaller the world gets, the more they want to connect meaningfully with the people they visit. One sign of of this growing spirit of volunteerism: In 2006, the Peace Corps took their largest number of volunteers in the history of the service. Volunteer experience also distinguishes new entrants in the competitive work market, particularly those intent on pursuing environmentally-oriented careers. â€œFor most jobs in international development, even entry-level jobs, [employers] want to know that you understand the complexities of other cultures,â€ Wilks says, adding, â€œThe only way you can really do that is to have lived and worked overseas.â€