When you're a student the summers seem long and are often the perfect way to earn some extra cash so you're not strapped next semester.
For the first two years of university I worked in a family run jewellers six days a week in my small hometown. It was great, my bosses were kind, and I earned lots of money which allowed me to do many things I otherwise couldn't have the following semester.
But in the summer of third year I was faced with different prospects.
I had started a job in another jewellers which was 16 hours working a Saturday and Sunday in my university city, I was paying a huge amount of rent for a tiny room in private accommodation and most of my friends had gone home for summer.
One night I felt so annoyed at my situation I sat trawling through options on the Guardian jobs list and Charity Job. I came across a voluntary role for ten weeks on a pilot programme with the charity Raleigh International. And the next day I just applied.
My application went through 30 minutes before the deadline and I had no expectations that anything would come of it. Five days later and still in the midst of my exams a call came asking me to go to London for an interview. Thirty days later I was on the flight headed to Nicaragua, still completely unsure of what to expect or how I ended up there.
The leadership, determination and creative skills I learned while I was away proved an invaluable asset to my CV. I faced daily challenges from the living conditions, to creating a successful project and dealing with difficulties in a team of eight people who I had only met twice before the trip.
By choosing to volunteer instead of work I earned so much more in terms of my own personal development and setting myself apart from other graduates when I finished my degree. I had shown I had the determination to go on my own to another country to work with people I didn't know, similar to what you would face in a paid job abroad.
This trip along with other charity work have really transformed the way I live as well as presenting me with many opportunities to travel, work abroad, and meet interesting people whom I never would have if I had turned them down in favour of my usual paid job.
There are many opportunities out there when it comes to volunteering, and often within your job industry. No matter how unsure, afraid or doubtful you feel about volunteering abroad it is something which will challenge and make you learn in a way that nothing else can.
Tips for volunteering abroad:
Go to the charity's website and read about what they do and who their team are. Make sure you are volunteering for a cause you believe in and an organisation you want to work for because that will be your main motivation when you're there.
Avoid "pay for play" organisations. There are many organisations who charge their volunteers to work for them. Fundraising gives you a far bigger sense of achievement, something else to put on your CV and doesn't leave you out of pocket.
Make sure you read the Foreign Office travel advice before accepting a volunteer position. Look into the injections, safety and security and entry requirements in particular. Don't accept a position which won't give you enough time to get all of the recommended injections. Make sure you're clued up on the local customs and security of the place you're going to.
Choose the right location. If you are really terrified of insects, don't go to Central America to stay with a host family, choose something more European based. Try pick a place that you have a genuine interest in.
Choose the right length of volunteering experience. Volunteering is tough, particularly if you're in a challenging and new environment. If you've never been away from home for any length of time, it may be better to choose a shorter volunteering trip and build up to a long one.
Find out if the company provides your insurance. If not, get comprehensive cover for the country you're going to.
Write a checklist before you go to ensure you pack all of your essentials. It's always a good idea to take a basic first aid kit and some insect repellent. You may also want to take a mosquito net if you're going to a malaria zone.
A list of useful volunteering websites:
ICS is a government funded programme with a number of partner charities for 18-25 year olds:
VSO is another programme linked with ICS, also funded by the UK government for 18-25 year olds:
Various levels of job from across the globe are listed on CharityJob:
The British Council has many opportunities to spend your summer on an exchange abroad, or to work or volunteer overseas. Bursaries are sometimes available:
Camp America is growing increasingly popular among young people for opportunities to work with children in a variety of skilled roles:
Tall Ships provides UK based sailing courses for both young and old volunteers. The age bracket is 12 to 80 and there are also bursaries available:
For the more independent volunteer, WWOOF is a worldwide organisation in which volunteering on organic farms is exchanged for board and food: