kids, volunteer travel

Laid Off Workers and New Graduates Try Volunteer Travel

September 27, 2010 07:00 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
As laid off workers struggle to find new jobs, volunteering has become an increasingly popular alternative, everywhere from Singapore to San Francisco.

Volunteer Opportunites Near and Far

At the Adult Immunization & Travel Clinic in San Francisco, nurses have seen more travelers preparing for international volunteering trips, rather than typical vacations. According to Heather Knight in an article for the San Francisco Chronicle, nurse Pamela Axelson has witnessed "scores of pink-slipped workers chuck city life to spend months volunteering" in places like Nepal and Central America, often cleaning out their savings account or using their severance pay to cover travel costs.

"They choose to go off and learn something about the rest of the world or do something constructive as opposed to sitting around worrying about their next job," Axelson said, according to Knight.

Other victims of the recession have been offered extended time off from work in return for much lower salary, as Lisa Bachelor explains for The Guardian. According to Bachelor, although workers that have received time off face "the obvious temptation to use the time to kick-back," they've been presented with "an invaluable opportunity to boost future career prospects." As such, many have turned to working overseas through various charities, such as VSO and Action for Children. Bachelor suggests keeping in mind that "that voluntary placements can often take a long time to organise," sometimes up to six months.

There are also numerous volunteer opportunities "close to home" that may be easier to put together and can begin more quickly, but still "offer a lot of the same skills development without the culture shock," according to Bachelor.

The trend of volunteering isn't limited to the U.S., however. In Singapore, the Fei Yue Family Service Centre has seen "more individuals volunteering their time to help needy families, like giving free tuition to the children," according to Clarissa Oon for The Straits Times. Rachel Lee, leader of the Centre, told The Times, "I think in the long run, this crisis will bring us down to earth. It will make us realise we are vulnerable after all."

New Graduates Volunteering More Than Ever

College graduates are also volunteering abroad to escape the dour economy.

"I have a lot of friends who are either moving abroad or trying to find different things, because with the recession, people can't find jobs," Sydney Owens, a recent graduate of the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Virginia, told Alex Johnson of MSNBC.

The Peace Corps received 16 percent more applications last spring than in 2008, according to agency reports. Applications have also flooded into AmeriCorps, tripling the number received in 2008; most "were recent college graduates or college seniors about to graduate," Johnson reported.

The Teach for America program, which sets up two-year teaching positions for qualified graduates, reported that 35,000 applied for about 4,000 positions this year. It was "the first time in its 20-year history" that Teach for America was forced to turn away applicants meeting "all of its rigorous criteria," according to Johnson.

Background: Finding volunteer opportunities

In her suggestions to new graduates seeking international volunteering and work opportunities, Erin Harris suggests farming programs, teaching English and working as an au pair. Learn which sites can point you to further information in "Post Graduation Job Search: Work, Intern or Volunteer Abroad."
The International Volunteer Programs Association (IVPA) is an alliance of international nonprofit volunteer organizations. Visit the site to search for volunteer positions by specifying the region and country you'd like to work in, the type of work you'd like to perform and the duration of your stay.

For more insider tips and advice on how to determine whether you're prepared for an international or domestic volunteer experience, read this insightful Q&A with travel editor Shelley Seale on Wandering Educators.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines