Module 3: Preventing Unprofessional Behavior

Reflect On Your Motivations For Volunteering Abroad

What do I want? You should spend time assessing your reasons and goals for volunteering abroad before you make any commitment. Why do you want to volunteer? Answering this question takes significant self-reflection. If you thrive on absorbing new cultures, are motivated by a strong sense of social justice, altruism, and compassion, and you enjoy hard work, you may be well on your way to being a high-impact volunteer. Still, be sure to take time to consider your personality and lifestyle. When you travel, do you often feel lonely, or homesick? If so, volunteering abroad may not be right for you. Similarly, if you enjoy privacy and long periods of time alone, working with a medical team abroad may not be ideal. Be honest with yourself – there are no right or wrong answers to introspection.

What are my options? After you’ve pinpointed your interests and expectations, you can decide whether volunteering abroad is right for you. If it’s not, don’t fret – there are many alternatives to international volunteering. For example, if your primary motivation is travel or trying something new, there are endless adventure travel and tourism options. If your motivations center on learning or exploring new cultures, you may want to try a study abroad program. Wherever you end up, you will gain the most and have the highest impact if you have taken the time to honestly evaluate your strengths, weaknesses, motivations and expectations.

Know What You'll Be Doing

In order to avoid surprises and minimize the common causes of unprofessionalism, volunteers should familiarize themselves with their target communities prior to departing on their trip. Before arriving at a worksite, health volunteers should investigate and understand:

  1. The resources and limitations of the local health system
  2. Customs, demographic information, culturally appropriate dress, privacy norms, and traits of the local work and living environments
  3. Local folk tales and traditional medical practices, and how vital these beliefs are to the patient
  4. The hierarchy of authority within the local work and living environments

Past volunteers who have served in the same area are invaluable resources for this information. Unite For Sight therefore requires all volunteers to watch assigned videos and read assigned articles that have been prepared by alumni volunteers. Unite For Sight also encourages volunteers to contact alumni volunteers through their login page. Overall, international volunteers should strive to be flexible, engaged, respectful, patient, dependable, enthusiastic, and open to new experiences and cultures. 

Module 4: Traits of a Successful International Volunteer>>