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Travelers Making a Difference

For many travelers, a desire to see the world also fosters a desire to change it, to help people in countries and cities both near and far away, to make a connection, to make a difference.

For some that means going on voluntourism trips – organized trips specifically designed to incorporate volunteer projects in a specific place, which are fully planned by an agency that handles travel, accommodations, and even medical evacuation insurance.

For others it means seeking out opportunities in the place they happen to be visiting. Both can make a significant impact, both on the traveler and on the communities where he or she volunteers.

Others though, are looking for more long-term volunteering opportunities – the chance to stick with one project over the course of weeks, months, or years, and see how dedicated service can make a difference in the long term. One popular long-term service option is the Peace Corps.

Known as “the hardest job you’ll ever love,” volunteering in the Peace Corps is a rewarding but challenging job, and one that some travelers jump into for the wrong reasons. The idea of living and traveling abroad, changing the world and coming away with some serious bragging rights for your resume may entice you to apply, but these are are all reasons not to join the Peace Corps – or at least, they are reasons that are not enough on their own.

Each of these reasons is valid, but they may not be enough to sustain you for two hard years, and if they are the reasons that lead you to be a PCV, the reality of what you find once you accept your post may disappoint you. Peace Corps volunteers live as the locals do, in the same housing, and on the same salary, which means any dreams you have had of a year abroad exploring the world in style will soon be shattered. And the idea of putting “Peace Corps volunteer” on your resume may be a motivating factor, but it won’t get you through the hardest days.

The biggest challenge many Peace Corps volunteers face is the same that anyone who volunteers while traveling may need to overcome – the disillusionment of being able to change the world. Whether you volunteer for a few days, a few months, or several years, it’s important to realize that change more often (and often, more importantly) happens first on a micro level. Your efforts might not change the world but they may change one person, or one community, and that can make all the difference to a person in need.

Photo by afagen