I’ll admit it – I am a sucker for photos of animals. People with animals, animals with other animals, animals with babies just get me every time. So as I’m researching volunteer abroad placement organizations for this week’s blog, I had to stop when I saw a photo of a volunteer with an elephant and see what it was all about. That’s pretty much how I landed on International Student Volunteers.
ISV was established in 2002, but has somehow stayed off of my volunteer organization radar until now, which I think is mostly due to the fact that they don’t have projects in locations with which I’m most familiar. Well all that is about to change as I dive a little deeper into the world of ISV!
First of all, they are a nonprofit, and that’s awesome. They operate not only to make money (although every company is actually trying to make money in some way), but to serve the common good, a put forth some kind of public benefit. However, there are a lot of nonprofit volunteer placement organizations, so that’s not the only reason that ISV stood out to me. What I really liked was how easy it was to find out about their status, and they were completely transparent about how they operate with community agencies on the Our Story page.
But if you aren’t a nonprofit geek like I am, that’s probably not the first thing that you are looking out for in the work of volunteering abroad. So let’s talk about what they do:
- There are four categories of volunteer project: Wildlife conservation, Environmental Management, Children’s Programs and Community Development. They are covering all of the bases as far as popular volunteer opportunities, except for public health.
- Volunteer projects take place in Australia, Eastern Europe, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Ecuador and South Africa. Six continents. Not bad.
- Adventure travel trips! And there are a lot of them! This is where ISV really sets itself apart from the other volunteer placement organizations.
So what does a typical volunteer trip look like?
You can choose a trip by either destination or project area. Wildlife conservation projects will vary based on the wildlife in the area – sea turtles by the coast, monkeys in the jungle, and most of the community development volunteer projects regardless of location have some sort of hard labor/construction aspect. But the website is clear that not prior experience is necessary. For most programs, the volunteer project lasts for two weeks.
That’s followed by two weeks of adventure travel, featuring kayaking, horseback riding, zip lines, exploring local towns and nightlife – all of the excursions that really define the volunteer vacation experience. Each trip also has a number of optional excursions that take you a bit farther away: the South Africa trip offers excursions to Cape Town and into wild Africa on safari tours, Thailand offers and excursion to ancient Cambodia, and a New Zealand project will send you on a quick trip to Fiji!
And with all of this comes another bit of good news: many of these trips actually qualify students for academic credit (usually for an independent study!). They have some pretty comprehensive information about how to qualify for academic credit for volunteering abroad on the ISV website, but are clear that you must get the appropriate approval from your college or university first.
Reading through the website kind of makes me want to quit my day job and hop on a plane. But hopefully you’re thinking to yourself "how much does all of this cost?" Well, it costs quite a bit. ISV is one of the more expensive volunteer organizations that I am familiar with, but with an excellent reason – they are travel & volunteering. They are voluntourism, and they will take you all over the place and allow you to really get the most out of your trip abroad.
Just be prepared to pay for it.
As an example, this is the cost for a four-week Costa Rica adventure:
- ~$4,000 program fee (room & board for 2 weeks, housing and half meals for the other two weeks, orientation, transportation, local adventure excursions like horseback riding, kayaking, etc.)
- ~$1,500 for optional trip to Machu Picchu
- ~$1,700 for optional trip to the Galapagos Islands
- ~$455 for optional Spanish lessons
That’s already $7,700 before airfare, passports, health insurance and other incidentals. I can’t argue with the fact that the trip sounds amazing, but this reads so much more like a vacation than a volunteer experience. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but just be aware of it if you choose to explore possibilities.
That said: I’m pretty impressed by the vast array of projects that you can choose for the two-week volunteer portion of the volunteer vacation. Saving sea turtle eggs, rehabilitating elephants and gibbons, observing humpback whales and working at wildlife refuges are all projects that are offered. Community development volunteers help with mangrove planting, building and repairing children’s schools and environmental clean-up are offered in you’re into working in the community. And virtually all locations offer the opportunity to work with kids – in orphanages, schools, and parks alike. In order to offer these, ISV teams up with locally established NGOs so that they can be sure that the work is necessary and supported by the community.
So ISV’s flashy, colorful website drew me in, but it’s seamless integration of volunteering and adventure kept me interested. This appears to be one of the more comprehensive programs of its kind, so if you’re interested in a "voluntour" you might want to check them out!