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How to Prepare for Your First Volunteer Experience: A Guide for First-Time Volunteers

Article by Petrina Darrah

Petrina Darrah

Posted: March 23, 2023

Volunteering is a wonderful way to make a difference in the world while also gaining valuable experience and personal growth. Whether you are looking to travel, learn new skills, or give back to your community, volunteering can be a fulfilling and rewarding experience. However, for first-time volunteers, it can be overwhelming to know where to start and how to prepare. 

First Things First: Determine Your Goals and Interests

One of the first steps in preparing for your first volunteer experience is to identify your goals and interests. This will help you choose a program that aligns with your passions and motivations, and maximise your impact and fulfilment. GVI offers a range of programs that cater to different interests and skill levels, such as marine conservation, wildlife research, teaching, and community development. By taking a self-assessment and evaluating your skills, strengths, and areas of interest, you can choose a program that will challenge you and allow you to grow.

Choose the Right Volunteer Program

Once you have determined your goals and interests, it is time to research and choose the right volunteer program. Read program descriptions, location details, and testimonials from past volunteers. It is important to consider factors such as the location, duration, and requirements of the program, as well as the organisation’s reputation, mission, and impact. GVI offers programs in various countries, such as Costa Rica, Fiji, and South Africa, each with unique cultures, ecosystems, and challenges. It is also important to reach out to the organisation and ask questions, clarify expectations, and get a sense of the support and guidance provided.

Plan and Prepare Logistics

Once you have chosen your program and destination, it is important to plan and prepare for the logistics of your trip. GVI offers support and guidance on travel arrangements, such as flights, visas, and vaccinations, and provides a packing list and gear recommendations. It is also important to prepare mentally and emotionally for the challenges and rewards of volunteering, such as adapting to a new environment, working in a team, and facing cultural differences. GVI offers pre-departure orientation and training, as well as ongoing support and debriefing throughout the program.

Learn About the Culture and Context

To ensure a successful and respectful volunteer experience, it is important to learn about the local culture, customs, and language. GVI provides cultural training and resources, such as language lessons, cultural workshops, and homestays. It is also important to understand the social, economic, and political context of the community and project you will be working with. GVI partners with local organisations and communities to ensure that their programs are sustainable, impactful, and respectful of local values and needs. By learning about the culture and context, you can build trust, understanding, and empathy with the locals, and contribute to a more meaningful and positive experience.

Build Your Skills and Knowledge

Volunteering is a great opportunity to learn new skills and knowledge, and develop your personal and professional growth. GVI offers training and support in various areas, such as environmental science, teaching, project management, and intercultural communication. By participating in workshops, fieldwork, and mentoring, you can gain practical experience, feedback, and guidance from experts and peers. You can also reflect on your strengths and areas of improvement, and set goals for your future career and personal development.

Make a Positive Impact

The ultimate goal of volunteering is to make a positive impact on the environment, wildlife, and communities. GVI programs are designed to address local needs and challenges, such as marine conservation, education, and healthcare. By working alongside locals and experts, you can contribute to sustainable and long-term solutions, and leave a lasting impact. You can also inspire others to take action and create a ripple effect of positive change.

Volunteering is a powerful and transformative experience that can change your life and the world. By preparing and choosing the right program, learning about the culture and context, building your skills and knowledge, and making a positive impact, you can maximise your potential and fulfilment as a volunteer. GVI offers a safe, supportive, and impactful platform for first-time volunteers, and invites you to join their global community of changemakers. By volunteering with GVI, you can make a difference in the world while creating unforgettable memories and friendships.

By Petrina Darrah

Petrina Darrah is a freelance writer from New Zealand with a passion for outdoor adventure and sustainable travel. She has been writing about travel for more than five years and her work has appeared in print and digital publications including National Geographic Travel, Conde Nast Travel, Business Insider, Atlas Obscura and more. You can see more of her work at petrinadarrah.com.
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