The content of each post is solely written by that contributor and only expresses the contributor's personal views. Each post does not represent the views of all the contributors or Women of Color Living Abroad as an organization. Each contributor is speaking from their own person experiences and/or perspective.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Seeing the World Through Service

March 2, 2012-Meisha

Since I was an adolescent, taking African Dance classes, I wanted to travel to Africa.  I didn’t know how though! And thought it was a formidable goal.  However, thanks to the Peace Corps, I have now lived in two African countries (Benin and South Africa) and traveled to more than ten.

Benefits of Volunteering Overseas
Peace Corps Volunteers secretly admit to each other that we benefit just at much (and maybe even more) from our service as our host communities.  Why? 

Support Services: Most programs offer some form of training before the start of your service.  Peace Corps training is 3-months in your country of assignment and covers culture, history, language, health, safety, and technical skills for your work assignment.   This type of training will familiarize you with your new community, making your transition a bit easier. 

The language classes will also ensure you can communicate in the national or local language spoken in your community. I learned French (and Mina—one of the local languages spoken in Benin and Togo) while serving in Benin, which made traveling across the primarily French speaking West Africa easier. And although I am now serving in English speaking South Africa, I am learning Tswana (which is spoken in South Africa and Botswana).

Before you depart, all programs will also ensure you have the appropriate vaccinations and medications to keep you healthy during your service. Medical care or access to medical facilities is also provided during service.

Cultural Immersion: Volunteering helps remove many of the barriers, such as lack of trust, which prevent foreigners from integrating into a community.  Local communities will already have a basic level of trust for the volunteer based on the organization’s reputation and interactions with previous volunteers. Living in local communities and on a local level, as many volunteers do, will further establish a trusting relationship. Volunteering also allows the time to fully immerse into a community to become integrated.

Although, not something that happens overnight, once integrated into a community volunteers gain access to a world that tourist, backpackers, and even expats living in the same area will never experience.
In Benin, enjoying a game of Uno with my next door neighbors
Save Money: The Peace Corps is one of the few programs that covers all of your travel expenses and provides a living allowance during your service. Even if you do have to cover your travel and expenses during your service, it is usually less than if you were to organize the trip on your own.  You can fundraise to cover your cost.  There are also a few grants available for voluntourism, such as Travelocity’s Travel for Good program. If you do pay out of pocket for your travel, you may be able to write-off on your taxes a portion of the expenses related to your service.

You Still Get to Travel: Most programs will give you the flexibility to arrange your own travel back to your home of record.  This allows you to travel in the region where you served before returning home.  Traveling within a region, in particular land travel in Africa and South America and air travel in Asia is relatively inexpensive.  Depending on the duration of your service you will also be given vacation days or time to travel independently.  During my service in Benin I was able to see most of West Africa through vacations and travel after my service.

Plus, since volunteers live on the same level as locals, you will learn how to navigate the developing world like locals.  Traveling “locally” saves money, provides a great opportunity to interact with locals, and makes for great stories to share with your friends at home. I promise you will never forget an African bush taxi ride or a South American cross-country bus ride!
"Traveling" in Mali
Increase Your Network: Volunteers not only become a member of the community where they serve, but a part of their volunteer community.  The strong bonds I formed with my fellow volunteers have developed into lifelong friendships!  My Peace Corps friends and the larger Peace Corps community have been helpful for everything from job searching to establishing contacts overseas before traveling.

Gain Professional Experience: Now more then ever, companies are looking to hire candidates with international experience.  With programs in everything from business to agriculture, volunteering is a great way to acquire international experience in your field. Adapting to a new culture and working with limited resources will also hone intangible skills that companies value such as flexibility, leadership, creative problem, “can do attitude,” and entrepreneurialism.

Make an Impact: Most importantly volunteering overseas gives you the opportunity to leave an everlasting impact on someone’s life or make a difference in a community!  During my first service I helped a community get a water pump installed.  One member of the community was so grateful that she named her daughter after me.  I am figuratively and literally forever connected to this community!
Beniniese School Children in a School Where I Donated Computers
International Volunteer Programs
Not everyone has two years available to serve in the Peace Corps.  Fortunately, there are numerous organizations that offer recent graduates and professionals the opportunity to serve abroad for shorter periods   Here are a few programs to consider:

The contents of this post are solely written by me and only express my own personal views. This post does not represent the views of the United States Government or the Peace Corps.


  1. Awesome! Before teaching in South Korea and Morocco I considered the Peace Corps. Glad you enjoyed your experience.

  2. Thanks for this post. I've been considering volunteering after leaving South Korea. Your list have given me some programs to research.

  3. Very touching! I think all of us, whether travelers, volunteers, expats, etc., should be honest about the benefit and effect we have on our "new home". Yes, saving money is great but making an impact is even greater!

  4. Meisha, I always find it exciting to hear about other people's journeys. As you know I'm planning to travel abroad soon & I find it important to talk w/ other women of color to learn about their experiences. Thanks for sharing and I look forward to reading more...

    1. Women of Color Living Abroad Blog is a great resource for you then! If you aren't a member of the Facebook group, check it out. It's also a great resource to connect with women of color living abroad.

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