After watching Slumdog Millionaire in middle school and being terrified out of my mind, traveling to India on a volunteer trip was probably the last thing I thought I would ever do. But here I am three years later, sitting in front of a computer screen telling you exactly why you should do it too. Now, I’m not saying pack your bags and fly across the world to the one place that gave you nightmares for months, but I am saying step outside your comfort zone and volunteer abroad. Here’s why:
Reason #1: Fresh Perspective
There is nothing that will change your outlook on life quite like pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. What better way to do that than to completely immerse yourself in a totally different culture? During my two-week stay in one of the poorest areas of India, I was exposed to a lifestyle that I was previously ignorant too. I met children without parents whose entirety of earthly possessions fit into a single trunk. I saw people who mutilated themselves in order to gain sympathy or money from unexpecting tourists. But most importantly, I met some of the happiest and most grateful people to probably ever exist. It was these people that pushed me to come home with a fresh perspective and I guarantee you will find these people as well.
Reason #2: Cultural Immersion
One of the best parts about traveling is all the different cuisines, beliefs, and languages you encounter. However, the cultural immersion you typically experience when traveling is even more genuine when you go on a volunteer trip. You get to know the locals and form relationships. You truly immerse yourself in their culture, by doing activities that are far from touristy. You live how they live.
Reason #3: Meaningful Relationships
What’s better than having friends all over the world? The people you aimed to impact through your volunteer work will probably end up having an even bigger impact on you. I still remember the way the young Indian orphans I spent time with danced whenever I turned their favorite Akon song on, or the tears in their eyes when I left. These are the types of meaningful relationships that stick with you, even if it may be nearly impossible to keep in touch.
Reason #4: The Gratification You Feel
Helping others no matter how small, is an extremely rewarding experience. Looking back on may trip, I doubt the boys at the orphanage I visited remember the botched English lessons I attempted to teach them. However, I’m sure they remember that I was there making an effort to improve their lives. The smiles on their faces after we took them to the zoo was enough to make the whole trip worth it.
Reason #5: Renewed Appreciation
All it takes is leaving home once to appreciate it. After meeting children with no one to call family and no place to call home, I had a renewed appreciation for both my family and home and after eating food that didn’t exactly sit well with my stomach, I have never cherished my grandma’s homemade pizza more. Although, your experience will be undoubtedly different from mine, the renewed appreciation you’ll feel for those you love will be evident.
I could probably list a million reasons why you should take part in an experience similar to mine, but it only takes one to push you to sign up. Stop by the Office of Global Opportunities (Walter International Education Center), to find out which global opportunity (hopefully volunteer) is right for you. Walk-in advising is available Monday through Friday 1 pm to 4 pm, you don’t even need an appointment.
Alicia Collins is a junior Strategic Communication major in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Follow her on Twitter @aliciacollins_