Volunteering is an attractive idea for immigrants who have just arrived in a new country. There are many benefits for you to enjoy—but in most cases, there are also real responsibilities involved. So before you begin looking for volunteer opportunities, you should consider both the pros and cons of your commitment.
For example: Volunteering is a great way to meet new people, improve your language skills, and develop your social skills. You will have the chance to get involved in important projects, give back to your community, and gain experience in new areas. Plus, it looks good to list on your résumé.
However, volunteering means working without getting paid. So this is not something that everyone can take advantage of—especially while they are trying to attend school, go to work, raise a family, or simply adjust to living in a new country.
Here is what you need to know if you are thinking about volunteering once you arrive in a new country.
Why Do People Volunteer?
Everyone’s reason for volunteering is different. Some people are trying to network for professional reasons, while others are hoping to socialize and make friends. Some people are attempting to learn new skills, while others are simply looking for reasons to get out of the house and stay active.
Below are five of the main reasons that people typically agree to donate their time and talent to an organization without getting paid.
1. Volunteering is an opportunity to give back to the community.
First and foremost, volunteer work allows people to dedicate their free time to giving back to the community. Your presence leaves a measurable, positive impact—because you know that the work would not be getting done if people were not showing up to do it, out of the goodness of their hearts. Consequently, it provides you with a natural sense of accomplishment.
Your role as a volunteer can also give you a sense of pride and identity. It is something that will feel good to tell people about over dinner and at work. You will know that the community you have recently joined is definitely better off now that you are there because you are giving back in a measurable way. This is something that everyone—not just immigrants—can feel unsure about after a big move or any other major life change. You can achieve better peace of mind when you have at least one piece of proof that the choice you made was for the best. Volunteer work gives you an outlet for those feelings in a very tangible and immediate way.
2. Volunteering can help you develop your interpersonal skills.
By volunteering, you are making a difference to the people’s lives and communities around you.
But it is a two-way street: Volunteering can benefit you and your family as much as “the cause” you have chosen to help. Dedicating your time as a volunteer on a regular basis increases your social interactions and therefore helps you develop interpersonal skills. As you feel more comfortable talking to and working with others, you will find your social interactions increasing in all areas of your day-to-day life. Those small, daily, positive social interactions can actually improve your mental health. It has been proven that positive social feedback results in better brain function and lower risk for depression and anxiety.
It can even improve the immune system!
3. Volunteering can help you to advance your career.
If you’re considering a new career, volunteering can help you gain more experience in your area of interest and meet people in the field. Volunteer work can help you while job-hunting because it will look good on your résumé and be something to talk about during a job interview. You can also build a network of professional connections and referrals.
Volunteering in your line of work can also be important if you are continuing in the same role that you held back home but find yourself starting again in a new country. For example, it can give you the opportunity to practice “soft skills.” These are almost as valuable as your education and career-specific training, because they help you fit into your company’s culture. Soft skills may include teamwork, communication, problem solving, project planning, task management, and organization.
Not only do employers and colleagues value workers who demonstrate aptitude with those skills, but your own sense of success will also give you greater confidence. You might feel more comfortable stretching your wings at work once you’ve honed these skills in a volunteer position first.
4. Volunteering can teach you valuable, marketable skills.
Just because volunteer work is unpaid does not mean the skills you learn are not valuable.
Look for opportunities that can teach you transferable skills. Many volunteer jobs provide extensive training, which can be used in another setting. For example, you could become an experienced crisis counselor while volunteering for a women’s shelter.
Volunteering can also help you build upon skills you already have and demonstrate how they can be used to benefit the greater community. For instance, if you already work in sales, you can raise funds or awareness for your favorite cause as an advocate. By finding a natural extension of your existing skill set, you can improve in related areas like public speaking, communications, and marketing. These can build your career, which means that your volunteer work could actually turn out to be very profitable.
5. Volunteering brings fun and fulfillment to your life.
Here is one reason that does not always get as much attention as it deserves: Volunteering can be fun!
Volunteering is one way to explore your interests and passions—for free! You might not be getting paid, but you can get involved with organizations that you might otherwise pay to attend, like a museum. That way, you will get an up-close, in-depth relationship with the exhibits without paying an extra dime.
It can also be extremely rewarding and fulfilling for you. People often volunteer in order to find meaning in their lives or give their free time a sense of purpose. This is why people might volunteer at church, for example, or with a charity that helps people in need.
Doing volunteer work that you believe is meaningful, or making a difference, can provide psychological and emotional benefits that are far more valuable to some people than money. Volunteering can provide you with renewed creativity, motivation, and vision. These perks will carry over into your personal and professional life.
Volunteering can also be relaxing—if you are tending to a community garden or cooking in a soup kitchen, for example. Or, if you like to stay busy, choose a volunteer opportunity that provides an energizing escape from your day-to-day routine of work, school, or family commitments.
You will have a richer and more enjoyable volunteering experience if you first take some time to identify your goals and interests. Think about why you want to volunteer. What would you enjoy doing? The opportunities that match with both your goals and your interests are most likely to be fun and fulfilling.
Where Can You Find Volunteer Jobs?
You should look for volunteer opportunities that match your interests—so you can really put your heart into your work.
Here are a few organizations that typically rely on volunteers and have chapters across North America:
- National parks
- Food pantries
- Local libraries
- Art museums
- Political campaigns
- Retirement homes
- Red Cross
Unfortunately, there are far too many people, animals, and environmental causes in need—but that means that there are so many ways that volunteers can make a difference. The greatest thing about volunteering is that it not only benefits individual recipients and their communities; it also benefits the volunteers themselves.
Find out for yourself! Locate an organization near you that needs an extra set of helping hands. Then, sign up and get started!