If you have decided to volunteer abroad, either through a program or on your own, you’ll probably be met with a lot of enthusiasm by your friends and family. You’ll also encounter a bit of skepticism – especially by your parents and/or grandparents. Those who are concerned about safety, or who simply don’t want you to leave the country for a long period of time, will have lots of questions (often detailed) about your adventure. This is so common that some volunteer placement organizations have devoted parts of their website just to answer parent questions. If you are about to break the news to your parents, or are just curious about some of the FAQs that might come up about volunteering abroad, be sure to check out some of these resources:
- Amigos de las Americas devotes an entire website section to parent questions, going so far as to have video testimonials to Amigos parents. The information is specific to Amigos programs, but seeing another parent talk about their experience will undoubtedly be helpful to any parent who is working through their child’s decision to volunteer.
- Many universities offer a "family guide" for students studying abroad – one of my favorites is issued by Purdue University. As a volunteer, you’ll need to pick and choose the information that best pertains to your situation, but it’s a great start!
- Cosmic Volunteers also offers a parent section, which is a little more general than the one offered by Amigos. It features some interesting advice for parents who are welcoming their children home from abroad that can help offer perspective about how the experience affects both the volunteer and the family.
The best advice that I can give is to include your family in your decision to volunteer abroad as early as possible. People generally react to news better if they feel like they are part of the process, particularly if they feel like you considered their feelings. I cannot tell you how important family support is to an international volunteer – a supportive voice from home can help with culture shock, homesickness and other issues that volunteers typically face. Most parents and families will want to be supportive of such a life-changing decision, but will also need reassurance that you will be safe and happy in your volunteer placement. If you have a series of thorough, transparent talks with them before you leave, you’ll make sure that everyone’s needs are met. And if you can find a former volunteer to talk to you parents about their experience, that’s even better!