For both high school and college graduates, the summer after graduation is a special one. Some parents choose to reward their child with a vacation that allows them to finally relax after years of hard work. But other families may decide that a volunteer vacation — one that mixes the pleasures of travel with philanthropy — is even more rewarding.
Doug Cutchins, Director of Social Commitment at Grinnell College and one of the authors of Volunteer Vacations: Short-Term Adventures That Will Benefit You and Others, says that graduation is the perfect time to take a trip that’s focused on giving back.
“The really great advantage that people at that age have is freedom,” he tells Straight Talk. “There’s probably no other time in your life when you are as free as when you’ve just finished high school or college and have the ability, the time, the energy and the freedom to go out and do these things.”
So if your recent graduate is looking to embark on a volunteer vacation, where should he or she start?
Cutchins says that an important first step for any volunteer is to decide what they want to get out of the experience.
He says, “Make sure that however you, the individual, are defining success, you’re signing up with an organization that’s going to offer [an experience that is] as close to that definition as possible.”
Once you know what your goals are, it’s time to find the trip that’s right for you. Cutchins notes that the International Volunteer Program Association can be a good place to start.
The New York Times also has a few suggestions. The paper notes that FlyForGood.com can help you find a trip and even help you get discounted rates to your destination. It also points readers to Hands Up Holidays, a site that mixes volunteering (for example, working to preserve kiwi birds in New Zealand) with luxury amenities (wine tasting and whale watching).
If you have questions about what to expect from a certain organization or destination, Cutchins recommends visiting the organization’s Facebook page and contacting its fans, many of whom are usually former volunteers.
“A lot of people have probably blogged about their experiences,” he adds, “so do a Google blog search of the organization’s name and reach out to them and find out what their experience was like.”
While taking a few weeks to help others is always noble, Cutchins encourages young people to opt for longer trips that can make a bigger difference.
“I’m a huge fan of volunteer vacations,” he says, “but I also think that if people want to really create effective change in the world — and if they really want to have a deeper impact on themselves — those things don’t happen overnight and they don’t happen quickly. People need to realize that they are part of a process. If you want to have a greater impact, stay longer.”
No matter what length of trip your graduate chooses, Cutchins stresses the importance of the cross-cultural exchange that comes from volunteering in an unfamiliar place.
“People need to recognize the ability to learn about other cultures and the ability to represent themselves and their families [while volunteering abroad],” he says. “I really wish people would pay more attention to the art of cultural exchange and the desire to have significant, meaningful cultural experiences and to use volunteer vacations as a way to do that.”
Are you considering sending your graduate on a volunteer vacation this summer? Have you ever traveled abroad to give back?