If you’re a student or teacher, when summer rolls around, it’s time for an extended break. While you could just hang out with friends and get a casual summer job, or head off on vacation for a week or two, many people are looking for something a little more meaningful and want to use their time available to give back to others. If this sounds like you, then your summer break is an ideal time to head abroad for a summer volunteering experience, with time to really immerse yourself in a particular destination or project. The good news is that many volunteer abroad organizations plan placements with this in mind and are specifically geared towards students and teachers.

So how do you plan a summer volunteering experience and where should you go?

How to plan a summer volunteering experience?

Summer volunteering
Ideally you should start planning your summer volunteering experience in winter. This will give you time to research different projects and organizations and find one that suits you for the budget you have available. You might want to work on a marine project in the Caribbean, help build schools in Thailand or head off for an English language teaching placement in South America.

Giving yourself six months to plan will also allow you to do some fundraising and get together the money needed to finance the placement fee, international flights and visa requirements. You can also search for any scholarships or grants which might be available to help offset the costs or earn the money yourself through a part-time job.

You’ll also have time to get any necessary visas in order, which (depending on the country) can take from a few days to a few weeks to secure. You can also get organized with vaccinations, particularly those which need to be administered in multiple doses over the course of a few weeks.

Where should you go?

Summer volunteering Thailand
A beach in Thailand

When planning your summer volunteering experience, it’s really important to take into account a few considerations when deciding where to go. It’s the height of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, with often swelteringly hot conditions, humidity and heavy rains across the Equator. While in the Southern Hemisphere winter has set in, with decidedly chilly conditions and short days. So where is ideal weather-wise with a good choice of summer volunteering projects?

Summer volunteering Nepal
Rice patties in rural Nepal

While Southeast Asia’s rainy season is just setting in, the weather in mountainous Bhutan is ideal. Warm-to-hot sunny days are perfect for visiting its temples and monasteries and it’s less crowded than during the spring and fall months. Nepal is also a great choice, with long, warm days for trekking before or after your placement and an absence of snow which makes transport difficult throughout much of the year. Northern China and Mongolia are also at their best for those considering teaching English, although things get warm and muggy in China’s southern provinces.

If you’re interested in Latin America, then June marks the start of the cool and dry season in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. Guatemala and Costa Rica are also great choices. You could head into the Amazon to work alongside indigenous tribes or join a marine conservation project, with a greater chance of spotting whales and dolphins at this time of year. The weather is also ideal in Peru if you want to combine your summer volunteering project with an Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu, with warm and dry conditions across the Andes.

Summer volunteering Guatemala
Guatemala City, Guatemala

If you’re thinking about a summer volunteering trip to Europe, keep in mind that they are also on their long summer break and many destinations get incredibly busy. Southern Europe can get swelteringly hot, while the north is relatively mild by comparison. Countries close to the Arctic such as Iceland and Greenland see endless summer days which are ideal for conservation-based volunteer work in breathtaking locations, or head to the remote Norwegian island of Svalbard where polar bears roam free.

Much of the Middle East is unbearably hot at this time of year, although Jordan is a great option with slightly milder temperatures, together with Israel and Palestine. Many destinations in Africa are ideal, with the Great Wildebeest Migration in full swing across Kenya and Tanzania. Dry conditions see wildlife congregate around limited water sources in many sub-Saharan African countries, making this an ideal safari time.

While New Zealand is in the depths of winter, Northern Australia is experiencing its warm, dry season which makes it a great time for heading “Down Under”. The Pacific Islands of Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu are also perfect with dry skies and an absence of cyclones, making this an ideal time for community-based projects and conservation initiatives here.

Why should you do summer volunteering?

First and foremost, volunteer abroad programs are a great way to develop important life skills while immersing yourself in a completely new culture. You’ll be working alongside local communities on causes that matter to you and be making lifelong friends at the same time.

But for students and young professionals, summer volunteering programs are also a great addition to your CV and will give you an edge when competing for jobs. Employers know that individuals who have volunteered abroad have world experience and a concern for others, with an added level of independence and confidence.

If you opt to do a summer volunteering program in your specific field of research or study, you might also make valuable connections within the sector or be referred for a job. While a degree is a highly-valued qualification, nothing beats real-life experience and networking in your industry!

If your school requires that you do community service, this is also a great way to fulfill your duties while having an exciting and unforgettable experience at the same time. You can select a program that really spikes your interest or something you feel you have skills which would contribute to the local communities you are working with.

The importance of summer volunteering both long and short-term cannot be over-estimated, opening up a world of opportunities and paving a successful path for your future.