Although volunteering overseas can be a life-changing experience, it's also one of the hardest things you'll ever do. Many people have an unrealistic expectation that their experience will be as glamorous as it seems in the Kashi commercials. Managing your expectation before you volunteer will help you have a more successful volunteer experience.
Reflecting on the debate over disaster/poverty tourism a couple of weeks back some bloggers, such as Tales from the Hood and Pepy Tours, have argued that there is a benefit, if done right, of donors visiting aid recipients. And, if done right, I agree. One of the common complaints after the tsunami was that donors did not come and check whether aid work was done well or learn about the real needs of aid recipients. Donors do need to have a greater understanding of what does and does not work in aid as well as common problems associated with aid. Properly structured visits can help them become better donors.
The debate over voluntarism seems to be coalescing around one point – motivation matters. Before volunteering it’s important to have an honest conversation with yourself and examine your motivations and whether putting yourself in the lives of aid recipients is the best way to meet your needs.