There is something truly beautiful that all of us can bring to this world – whether it be the simply human, warm feeling of a hug you give to the little girl in the Bulgarian orphanage that never knew her parents, the smile of deep heartfelt gratitude on a mother’s face in Africa, who now can feel safe knowing that her child has something as basic as clean drinking water, or the little boy in the Tibetan community of India, whose heart and eyes light up with hope of the opportunity for a better life from the English lessons you are giving him. Even something that seems like such a small amount of help to you, can be such a huge sigh of relief for those who aren’t used to having anyone care about their plight.
We are so lucky in many parts of the world to have most of our basics covered, we can sometimes forget the suffering in other places. When we connect our will to our hearts and understanding of what is right, we can really find the inner strength and willpower to make our world a place with less suffering and more opportunities for everyone. I am a firm believer of this.
Today there are many, many genuinely free volunteer opportunities and organisations that let you do good for the world without lining the pockets of Wall Street executives.
I have separated them into four areas – Africa, Asia, Latin America, and worldwide. Read on to find the opportunity that is right for you.
I first got interested in teaching English overseas when I got sick of my 9-5 job in Australia, and wanted something more from life. I didn’t want to waste away behind a desk doing stuff which didn’t feel meaningful at all. I did some research and found a good, cheap online TEFL school.
(If you want to skip my adventures and get straight to the info about how to teach English abroad, scroll straight to the bottom of the article)
After that I set off into the Middle East, with my first stop being Egypt. Although Egypt had some amazing ancient artifacts, Cairo was the ugliest, most stressful city I had (and still now 3 years later) ever been to. The only nice part of the city were the pyramids. Overall it is worth going to Egypt and you can check out the cheap but good quality accommodation options for Egypt here (check out the ratings on the left)
Flickr: Ed Yourdon
After Egypt I crossed the port to Jordan – which was slightly nicer looking but had truly amazing people – in fact the people I met there and Syria I have considered the most warmest unbelievably selfless people I have ever met. If you are in the region I truly recommend visiting Petra – it’s one of the most amazing, most preserved Ancient Cities that exist – it’s not just the
photo below – it’s much more – it really is an entire city still preserved (by the way, I recommend keeping away from a Hostel called Valentine’s Inn – the owners are slightly/completely insane).
Flikr betta design
It is also in Jordan (in the capital Amman) where I stayed for a month and taught English to Palestinian and Iraqi refugee children (who had to leave their homes and families in Iraq due to the American military’s invasion and later occupation for oil). It was amazing how well behaved and eager to learn these kids were – despite having lost so much.
After that I traveled through Syria, Israel, and beautiful Turkey – Istanbul – which is still my favourite city (along with Belgrade). It’s quiet easy to get a job in Istanbul as a native English speaker – there are many language schools. Make sure you have your copy of your TEFL certificate and don’t go for the first offer, see which one pays best – know that the schools charge the students a small fortune to have lessons with you (a native English speaker “wow”) – so make sure you are getting your fair share of it. The schools will also help you get your visa for working.
Whilst traveling the Middle East last year, I had this funny experience where if I had a haircut and shaved, everyone assumed I was from Israel, and if I allowed my hair to grow a little and didn’t shave for a while, everyone automatically assumed I was an Arab and starting talking to me as such. Little did they know I am neither! Nor is my cultural background! Anyhow, as you can imagine, walking around looking like an Israeli soldier (with short marine style hair) did not go over too well in the Arabian countries, and this was reflected during my first day entering Egypt, Cairo when I was picked up at the airport to be taken to my cheap budget hotel.
Very curious, and slightly overwhelmed by the very long flight from Australia and my first day in a third world country, I didn’t fully notice at first that my driver was giving me strange looks in the rear view mirror. Finally he speaks up and he asks “do you remember the war?” and having no idea about what war he was talking about, I just looked at him curiously. “THE WAR, when many thousands of innocent Egyptians died at the hands of the Israelis!”. Having no idea that he thought I was a Jew, I just shrugged my shoulders and said… “No??”. Then he points to me and says “Israeli! Israeli!” Oh shit I thought. What the f***? my first day in the Middle East and this guy is gonna take me somewhere, clean me off and dump the body. So much for a relaxing holiday!! this was not on my itinerary!!
When traveling / backpacking, it is important to note that not all third world countries have the same dangers to watch out for, but here are some that apply to most.
5) PROTECTING YOUR PERSONAL BOUNDARIES
Severe poverty can bring out real desperation in people, which means that in the poorer countries, people will push you as much as you let them. It is important to not allow yourself to overly react to these people, even tho it may seem your only choice when beggars come up to you repeatedly or follow you non stop. I had this experience in Egypt when I was there for a month, I became extremely cynical towards the locals and it ruined my experience.