Every year, thousands (maybe even millions) of students decide to volunteer abroad. They do it for many reasons—they’re not ready for college, their families needs time to save money, they’re interested in studying abroad, or they simply want to give back. Whatever the reasons, all of these young people need help finding the right opportunities. Some of them want to study while others simply want to live in a new place and to experience a foreign culture. There is nothing more important during this time in a person’s life than finding a good match. I firmly believe that traveling is a critical part of anyone’s education and traveling alone as a young person is transformative. For many, it’s the first time they will be independent, learning how to navigate a new place with a foreign language. Young people have different needs than adults. They may need guidance—program personnel they can rely on for advice or a homestay family they can go to for emotional support. Each young person has unique needs and if these needs are met in an international volunteer context, each young person can thrive.
Go Abroad is an online service dedicated to matching young, gap-year students with educational and volunteer opportunities abroad. They provide a “one stop information center for students wishing to travel internationally.” They provide information on programs, destination countries, costs, and contacts. They also provide email addresses for direct communication between students and program representatives. It’s like a search engine for the young traveler. I imagine them now, hopped up on Mountain Dew, eager to find a program. I think the comprehensiveness of Go Abroad helps kids find something great quickly. I think it probably saves a lot of them from impulsively jumping into the wrong program. The information isn’t vetted, so students have to do their own research if they’re concerned with more in-depth program policies and practices, but it’s a great place to start (they’re also on Facebook).
Go Abroad isn’t limited to volunteer travel. They also offer information on tourism, educational opportunities (in traditional schools abroad), and eco travel opportunities. Still, it’s their volunteer listings that attracted me to the site. Visitors can search by country, type of volunteering experience (agriculture, animal welfare, English teaching, family planning, etc.), destination country, and duration. They also have a great, “Help Me Pick a Program” feature. Users enter as much information as they like into an online form and then wait for an email from the Go Abroad team. Go Abroad works one-on-one with volunteers to help them find the right placement. As far as I can tell, this service is free, though they do ask users to set up a profile on their network. This is a very useful resource for students and young volunteers!