Nowadays, there’s a lot of pressure on college students to accomplish as much as we can before graduation to even be considered as a job applicant. We face the stress of social media, internships and an enormous amount of competition in our personal and professional lives. It feels like we are constantly being sized up like prized pigs at a county fair to see which of us has packed the most meat into our college experience in order to win the blue ribbon of a steady salary.
However, have you ever considered that you don’t have to wait to travel, meet new people and embrace life without breaking your bank or derailing from your graduation plan? The answer is quite simple although the concept is usually swept under the rug – volunteer work. Before you roll your eyes and start thinking of excuses of why you don’t want, nor have the time, to work for free, keep in mind that companies put serious stock into job applicants with volunteer experience as it presents them as a well-rounded person.
Last summer I was able to stay at a 300-year-old historic family manor in Northern England for 17 days through an organization called World Wide Opportunities for Organic Farming (WWOOF). WWOOF allows anyone of any age to contact a host family in need of environmental volunteer work from anywhere in the world. My host family, the Wilberforces, had taken in numerous college students from around the world before me for visits ranging anywhere from two weeks to a whole year. I worked five hours per day on weekdays and had weekends off to explore some of England’s most idyllic countrysides and oldest cities. One of the best things about WWOOF was that I only had to pay for my plane ticket. Everything else – food, housing, laundry, WIFI etc. – was free of charge.
During my time with the Wilberforces I felt like a part of the family and got to observe firsthand how an English household is run. I also was able to do a range of farm work I had never had the opportunity to do in Atlanta such as gardening, maintaining a caravan campground and taking care of sheep, chickens and partridges. Two French volunteer women my age also stayed with the Wilberforces and the three of us quickly became hard workers and good friends. On my weekends off I visited the ruins of a local cathedral, the local blues bar and downtown shops, the Leeds shopping district and the city of York. My favorite weekday ritual was to go down to the village pub and chat with people about their daily lives and play some pool. For me, volunteering abroad is the most rewarding experience I’ve had to date in college because I got to partake in a new culture and make new friends while also helping a family in need all without draining my savings account! Months later, I still keep in contact with my host family.
There are alternative forms of travel for college students but most of them, like EF College Break, cost thousands of dollars for a ten-day trip only to be dragged along on stale tours of crowded cities like London, Paris, Rome and so on. With volunteer programs like WWOOF, SE7EN, Turtle Teams and Help Exchange Worldwide, it’s affordable and easy to join a foreign family or community and make a difference as well as explore the hidden ruins and beating heart of a country you’ve never visited. All I’m saying is, why get sucked into tasteless tourist traps when you can help yourself by helping others?
So do yourself a favor and look into volunteer work whether it’s local or abroad. There is always an organization to fit your schedule and budget and the experience will pay off later while trying to land a job after college. Remember, just because you’re young and in debt doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference and have the time of your life, and volunteer work is the best place to begin.