When you study abroad there is an incredible and life-changing opportunity to be thousands of miles from home yet still make an impact in your community. Whether it’s changing a child’s life by reading to them, or teaching someone how to speak another language or simply lending a helping hand, all of these opportunities and more are available to USAC students who are looking to volunteer during their time abroad.
When you study abroad with USAC, Resident Directors and on-campus resources can help you seek out and arrange volunteer opportunities. We work directly with your schedule and academic goals to align an opportunity that is not only rewarding but fits into your time abroad.
A popular place for USAC students to volunteer is at the Play and Learn Foundation in Ghana.
Play and Learn is an organization that seeks to make an efficient impact in empowering children from less privileged backgrounds.
Nana, the director of Play and Learn, tells us that prospective student volunteers should “expect to work with an Organization that is passionate and determined to develop a structured program that creates a conducive haven for children from less privileged backgrounds to play, learn and be mentored to help them grow.”
Students have a variety of opportunities to use their skills to make a difference. The organization welcomes teaching, coaching, mentoring, social media marketing, website management, photography, creating video content, organizing events, fundraising and research.
We know that students always say it best, so we spoke with Barellie Thompson, a USAC student who volunteered at Play and Learn in Fall 2016, about his experience.
The Experience of a Lifetime
Why did you decide to volunteer during your time abroad?
While I was in Ghana I had plenty of free time due to the fact that classes were only once a week. Also, I was seeking to gain more teaching/tutoring experience in order to help me make future career decisions.
What is one memory that stands out from your time volunteering?
Normally I taught English through literature to my students from Play and Learn, but one day I decided to do something different and do a lesson on jazz.
On this day, only one student had shown up for the session, but I still proceeded to teach him some basic information about jazz. Somewhere along the way, he urged me to search for an artist that was from his region. As we listened, I saw him get more interested than I had ever seen him and he was really engaged. He clearly enjoyed that I took time for something that was more relevant to him and he ended up teaching me a bit about the dance and music from where he is from.
This day taught me a valuable lesson about how important it is that teaching always be done with the students in mind. If students are not interested and engaged, you might as well be teaching them in a foreign language.
How do you believe volunteering changed your study abroad experience?
Volunteering for Play and Learn forced me to be accountable to someone other than myself. There were days when I didn’t feel like I had the energy to create a lesson plan, whether it was because I didn’t think any students would show up or I honestly didn’t feel like it. But for the sake of the students, I always had to push through and come up with something. This experience gave me the first-hand knowledge that teaching is definitely not something you can do halfway.
What is your favorite memory from your time in Ghana?
I do not think I can say that I have one favorite memory. However, I cherish every moment that I took to appreciate that I was in Ghana and appreciate everything about it. The people, the moments of relaxation, the sunny days, everything came together to make the experience worthwhile.
Did your experience in Ghana and at Play and Learn affect any of your plans back home or for the future?
Being in Ghana encouraged me to take a more active role in creating the kind of life that I want to see for myself. Being in Ghana for five months, away from family, friends, and the usual responsibilities, gave me the chance to really think about what I want for myself. And now that I am back home, the only thing that is left is to make it all happen. Studying abroad made me believe that I can.
What advice do you have for other students who may be thinking about volunteering abroad?
Go without any expectation except that the experience will change you if you allow it to. The mindset that you go into studying abroad with will shape your entire experience.
As much as volunteer opportunities impact students, students also have a large impact on the organizations they volunteer for.
According to Nana with Play and Learn, “student volunteers are the backbone of Play and Learn and are therefore important to the organization in the implementation of its overall vision, mission, goals, and objectives. They offer their time, knowledge, experiences, skills and creative ideas, which over the three years of the Play and Learn’s existence, has shaped the growth and progress of the organization in the quest to expand and reach more underprivileged youth in Ghana and throughout the West African Sub-Region. Together with our student volunteers that come in to offer their services, we are stronger and will continue to grow.
Additional Volunteer Opportunities with USAC
Ghana is just one of the many places where USAC offers volunteer opportunities for students who are studying abroad.
Here are just a few of the other exciting opportunities available to students.
Verona, Italy: Answer letters to Juliet, teach English to children in elementary schools, translate materials at museums, art shops, and tourism companies.
Floripa, Brazil: Participate in a beach clean-up.
Lüneburg, Germany: Work with local charities, environmental organizations, churches and more.
Prague, Czech Republic: Work on immigrant integration and cultural heritage protection, tutor English, volunteer with the National Center for Volunteers or Prague Jewish Communi.
Gold Coast, Australia: Volunteer at a sports stadium, major tourist event, or convention centre.
Madrid, Spain: Volunteer in the local community for organizations, such as T-oingo.com which helps Spanish-speaking families dealing with hearing loss, or volunteer at local bilingual schools.
Santiago, Chile: Work at a residential care home for children affected by cancer, become an English tutor for adolescents with difficulties in school.
Puntarenas, Costa Rica: Volunteer at the Marine Park or local community college teaching English. Work with at-risk children at the daycare.
Bangalore, India: Participate in a variety of opportunities including service learning and volunteering with the Center for Social Action, a student-run service organization.
Chiang Mai, Thailand: Volunteer in local social service projects, at the orphanage, in local schools, or at the zoo.
Lyon, France: Volunteer to teach English in French schools.
St. Andrews, Scotland: Work with popular student societies and associations on volunteer projects or organize campaigns for charity.
Chengdu, China: Volunteer at English/Chinese Corner. Help with workshops at “senior citizen college” that include music (traditional instruments or singing), Chinese painting, and dance.
Hiroshima, Japan: Study International Understanding in the Classroom in local elementary, junior, and high schools; activities on campus sponsored by the International Center, and other part-time jobs related to international exchange.
No matter where you choose to study abroad, USAC offers a variety of ways you can participate in your study abroad community. Check the USAC website for all locations that offer volunteer opportunities.