Guest Post by Maire Hunter
There are many great reasons for high school and college students to volunteer internationally. They get to go to a new country and help local residents improve their lives. The satisfaction of helping others is enough reason to volunteer, but there are other benefits, too. Long-term volunteers learn valuable skills and gain experience working with people of different cultures, making them more attractive to universities and potential employers.
If you're sending your kid off on an altruistic trip abroad, what can you do to help him prepare? Here's a list of the most important things to remember when your child is preparing to travel across the world.
The first step toward getting your child ready is to get all of his documentation in order. Update his passport, apply for a visa early, secure airfare and gather pertinent medical information. Make copies of everything; make sure your child has the originals plus a backup copy stored somewhere else. Give the volunteer coordinator copies, too, and keep a set for yourself in case you need to email, fax or mail them somewhere.
Host Country Information
You and your child should learn as much as you can about the country he'll be visiting. Study the culture and political climate closely. What are the traditional greetings? Are any normal actions here considered taboo there? Are there any dangerous parts of the country? Collect all that information and make copies of it, too, so you can both refresh yourselves when you need to. Make sure he learns some basic greetings and important questions — like "Where is the bathroom?" and "I'm lost" — in the country's native language, too.
While you're researching the country, find out what immunizations your child needs. While it would still be safe to only get the highest priority immunizations, it's safest to get every vaccine recommended. Be cautious.
Most study abroad programs and student visas require that students have comprehensive health insurance. Even if your child's program doesn't require it, health insurance is one of the most important things your child needs when traveling abroad. Get a student volunteer insurance policy to cover emergencies and know that your child has access to quality healthcare regardless of his destination.
Make sure your child packs clothing appropriate for his destination's culture, climate and the work he'll be doing. He'll probably be able to buy toiletries while he's overseas, but if he has a particular brand of soap he needs or likes, make sure he packs enough to last the whole trip. Include medicine, power adapters and books. Pack some cash, too, so he can exchange it for local currency when he arrives.
When your child finds out exactly what he'll be doing while volunteering, find out what supplies he'll need to bring to help him. Will he need sturdy work clothing for construction and good gloves for landscaping work? Talk to the volunteer coordinator and find out what supplies to send with your kid.
Have your child write down his travel itinerary, including all flight information and where he'll be staying during his trip. If he'll be moving through different villages, cover that as well. Collect any contact information you can so you can reach him in an emergency and give him and his volunteer coordinator copies of your contact information as well.
Volunteering abroad will open your child's eyes to other cultures, give him valuable experiences and help him in school and business, but how much he benefits is up to him. The best you can do is make his journey easier by preparing him for the road ahead.