Many of our readers are interested in volunteer opportunities around the world, and are active supporters of travel experiences that help give back to local communities. We’re therefore very proud to collaborate with our blog partner Go Overseas, a leading review site for international study, volunteer, internship and teaching programs. We’ve interviewed Katie Boyer, Volunteer Abroad Director for Go Overseas, to learn more about their work and get to know the volunteer travel field better.
Interview with Katie Boyer, Go Overseas
TIES: Please explain what Go Overseas does and its mission. What do you do, what do you seek to achieve, and how do you approach it?
Katie: Go Overseas started because our founders, Mitch Gordon and Andrew Dunkle, were unhappy with the existing resources, or lack of resources, that listed and reviewed international programs. People have more resources and options for buying a new TV than for spending thousands of dollars on a long-term trip abroad. Our mission is to help travelers make the most informed and educated decisions possible about study, intern, teach, and volunteer abroad programs. We give anyone who wants to go abroad an online community to find reviews, articles, inspirational stories, photo essays, and share their own experiences.
TIES: What is the best advice to offer someone who wants to give back to the country they are visiting?
Katie: It’s important to be mindful and conscious of your impacts on your host country, no matter how big or small. Sometimes we forget the little things that matter, like supporting and buying goods from locals. Preparing as much as possible before your trip will help. Know what resources will be available to you and what the needs are for volunteers. You always want to keep your host community in mind to make sure you are doing more good than harm.
TIES: What is your favorite travel/voluntourism experience?
Katie: I have a fascination with Latin American culture and have volunteered in Peru and Mexico. This past fall, I volunteered in Oaxaca, Mexico with a women’s group and a bicycling/environmental organization called Mundo Ceiba. It was one of my best experiences abroad because I got to tailor my schedule and volunteer work to my interests.
TIES: What are some of the most popular destinations for people who want to travel with a purpose?
Katie: People wanting to travel and volunteering generally migrate towards developing countries where there is the most immediate need for volunteers. African countries (like Ghana and South Africa) and Latin American countries (like Peru, Costa Rica, and Ecuador) are popular choices. I’ve seen a rise in interest in lesser-known countries like Tanzania.
TIES: What types of trends have you seen among traveler’s who use Go Overseas?
Katie: Most of our users are in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia and are college-aged or recently graduated. This seems to be an easy time for people to take time to volunteer. However, boomer volunteering and teen volunteering is becoming more popular. Our diversity of users allows us to offer a wider range of content.
TIES: Have you seen a rise or decline in people wanting to volunteer abroad since the global financial crisis?
Katie: People may be spending less money, but the desire to help people and explore cultures is constantly growing. Today, we are more drawn to having meaningful experiences than luxury vacations.
TIES: Often people forget to discuss the re-entry process after extended stays abroad, what kind of advice can you offer to those coming back from teaching/studying abroad?
Katie: Great point! I definitely agree that culture shock can go both ways. The re-entry process can be extremely difficult, especially after a long-term travel experience. You get so used to your life abroad sometimes that you forget daily routines you had back home. Routines will help you get used “real life” again. One of the biggest things I learned from culture shock was appreciation. Instead of feeling sad or overwhelmed, try to appreciate your time abroad and continue to learn from it and share your experience. Help others learn from your experience as well by writing a review on Go Overseas!
TIES: Name one of the biggest misconceptions about volunteering abroad?
Katie: Many people see volunteering abroad as an expensive form of travel that only the well-off, educated can participate in. However, it’s more common to see a range of people from economic statuses giving back to communities. There are always cheaper options – from hostels to group homes to sponsorships to off the beaten track options – saving money abroad can be done if you get creative.