Take a Volunteer Trip Over Your College Vacation

Help Others Others, See the World

Volunteer vacation in Costa Rica
Paul Souders/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images

If you're considering getting out of your comfort zone and helping others during your time off, think about taking a volunteer trip with i-to-i. It's a fabulous way to travel to a new country while giving back to the communities you encounter there.

Some potential opportunities for volunteering include conserving a lake in Guatemala, building homes for Honduran families, rescuing sea turtles in Costa Rica. It's a good way to see a piece of the planet and come home with a new perspective on how others in the world live. 

U.S. college students are increasingly seeking out short-term meaningful experiences by lending a helping hand, according to i-to-i. The international provider does more than half of its business each year with student travel and is experiencing 40-50 percent annual growth in numbers of student vacation volunteers.

The Experience

i-to-i's experience with the increasing interest among students is not unique, says Lee Ann Johnson, the company's managing director. In recent years, about 30,000 students opted for community service instead of a traditional vacation according to Break Away, a national nonprofit group that helps students organize service trips. And since 1994, the number of schools participating in alternative break programs with Campus Compact, an affiliation of over 1,100 U.S. colleges and universities that promotes public service, has more than doubled.

"College students are finding that they are able to give a gift that transcends gift-wrapped packages," says Lee Ann Johnson, managing director. At the same time, she says, volunteer vacations help them gain real-world experience, explore career options and strengthen resumes.

So, what do you gain from volunteering overseas? First of all, you can obtain valuable field experience in fields including marketing, journalism, teaching, fundraising, social services, and management, says Johnson. In many cases, students pursuing a volunteer vacation can earn college credit, with the volunteer vacation provider working with both the student and academic advisor. Providers such as i-to-i also offer training certification courses to prepare students to Teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), which is definitely worth getting if your future plans include teaching English as a means of funding your travels. 

i-to-i volunteers can choose from a wide variety of destinations, from India to Ireland or Costa Rica to Croatia. Volunteer opportunities range from teaching English to performing cultural and ecological conservation or constructing homes. Vacation choices can be as short as intense one-to-three week trips or as long as 24 weeks, says Johnson, creating opportunities for individual preferences. i-to-i also provides a select number of opportunities in which participants can earn money teaching English.

"For college students looking to do more than sleep in late and visit with myriad aunts, uncles, and cousins over winter, spring or summer break, the volunteer vacation can help them learn about their careers, their world, and themselves," says Johnson, and we wholeheartedly agree.

In addition, all i-to-i volunteer vacations are fully supported by trained work and travel advisors, paid in-country coordinators, airport pick-up and orientation, 24-hour emergency back-up, and comprehensive travel and health insurance tailored for the volunteer vacation experience. You're in safe hands, and won't have to worry about getting lost in a foreign country!

Further Details

i-to-i is an international volunteer vacation organization, specializing in helping disadvantaged communities and ecosystems around the world. The company arranges placements of between 1 and 24 weeks in teaching, conservation, community work, building and a variety of other projects in more than 20 countries.

Founded in 1994 with international headquarters in Leeds, England, i-to-i North America is based in Denver, Colorado. To date, the company has brought more than 10,000 volunteers together in projects around the world. For more information about upcoming volunteer vacation opportunities, visit the website at i-to-i Volunteer Travel or call 1-800-985-4864 for more information or a free brochure.

A note: like many volunteer companies, these experiences are not free. Be sure that you can spare the funds before you commit to your trip overseas.

Volunteer Opportunities Available to Students

You obviously don't want to sign up for a volunteer opportunity that doesn't appeal to you, so be sure to check out their website to see what's available. What about raising lion and tiger cubs in South Africa? Building wells in rural Vietnam after cruising the Mekong Delta and trekking near Mai Chau? The volunteer opportunities come under the following categories:

  • Eco/Environment
  • Archeology/Anthropology
  • Healthcare
  • TV/Radio/Print Communications
  • Social Work
  • Language Building/Learning Building

Spring Break Volunteer Vacations

i-to-i also runs volunteer experiences over spring break, which is one of the best times of year to volunteer. You'll be able to give back to a community over a week-long placement, meet new people across a range of different backgrounds, have your eyes opened to your privilege, to keep your vacation costs down, and to boost your resume. It's definitely an option worth exploring. 

This article has been edited and updated by Lauren Juliff

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