Volunteer Opportunities in Europe
Many people are looking for more than just a chance to live in a new country when they are considering living and working abroad. For those people, they want to be helping and sharing within the community as well as working in it. Volunteering abroad for charitable organizations in Europe can fulfill those goals.
There are all kinds of different ways you can volunteer in Europe and some will proved meals and a place to live while you are there and some will even provide a small stipend. There are groups and organizations from the local to the international level that welcome volunteers; You may already be familiar with some of them since many also work in North America.
Different countries in Europe have different needs in terms of volunteers, but generally, most volunteer work is going to be in on of these areas:
- Working with specific troubled groups such as refugees or homeless children
- Environmental causes such as nature preservation and study
- Historical exploration and restoration
In some of the East European countries there is also still need to provide general help and services to remote communities.
Choosing to do volunteer work in Europe could require a time commitment of anywhere from two weeks to a year depending on the organization that you work with. However, most volunteer periods can be thought of as either short term durations of one to three weeks, or long term durations of three months or more.
A short term volunteer position can generally be done under a tourist visa, although this is not necessarily the case for all European countries. Some, such as Switzerland, have specific volunteer visas instead that you must apply for. While these short term volunteer positions are great, this article is more about living and working for longer term periods in Europe. However there is nothing to prevent you from volunteering with two or three different organizations over a four month period and doing some traveling in between.
Longer term volunteer work of a few months or more will generally require that you get a different visa than a tourist one. However, you need to check with the embassy of the country in which you are doing the volunteer work to be sure. If you are arranging your volunteer work through a sending agency, they will be able to tell you what sort of visa you require.
Many long term volunteer positions will also offer a stipend in addition to providing room and board. This amount is not very much, on the order of a few hundred dollars a month, but it does provide you some spending money to enjoy your time off and to explore your new country.
There are no specific credentials that you need to volunteer but most organizations are going to look for sound organizational skills, any sort of technical skills applicable to the kind of volunteer work you would be doing, and travel experience and knowledge of different cultures and socio-economic backgrounds.
Volunteering in Europe is probably going to be a little different than volunteering in North America because you are going to be dealing with very different cultures without your own support network around you. It will be more challenging and more stressful, but ultimately it will be an experience you remember for a lifetime.
You are going to have to be careful in choosing the organization you work with to ensure that they are reliable.
As an example, a friend recently volunteered to help provide AIDS awareness in a small community in Ghana, and instead found herself simply teaching English to primary school students for two weeks.
On the plus side, volunteering with an organization that will provide basic living requirements while you are helping is a great, cheap way to see another country. Add that to the fact that you have made a difference in the world for the better will go a long ways towards making your Europe working stint a truly enriching experience.