Wednesday, November 20, 2013

IEW 2013 - Volunteer Abroad

In staying with our theme of International Education Week, our friends at Ecoteer were gracious enough to write us an article about volunteer abroad! Check out their website at:

Here’s the big question: “What do you want to do with your life?”
If you already have an answer and the motivation to pursue your dream at all costs then you’re luckier than most.  But, how can YOU seize that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity over the thousands of other starry-eyed hopefuls with exactly the same idea?  Even if your talent and commitment surpass the competition, how do you make the world recognize your potential?
My “dream” was always frustratingly vague.  I enjoy writing but love being outdoors and physically active – I can’t sit at a desk for hours or surround myself daily with the same office walls.  I’m a nomad at heart and have only ever held down a ‘proper’ job for long enough to save up traveling money.  It would be easier if the work was more inspiring but whenever I return home, funds depleted, to scan the jobs market for exciting, creative and meaningful I am forced to settle instead for realistic, available and paid.

You can only keep up the work – travel cycle for so long before potential employers grow suspicious.  One gap year might gain you credit but when your life becomes a series of gap years you need more to show for it than “confidence and social skills” or employers will read “international barfly”.

The good news is there are various travel options that actually enhance your career prospects.  Teaching English as a Foreign Language is one very accessible option for graduates that can lead straight into paid work on completion of a short, inexpensive qualification.  I started working abroad as an English teacher in 2010 and would recommend it to anyone as a unique cultural experience or potential career.

Volunteering abroad is another option.  Though unpaid, it does offer a far broader range of possibilities.  I enjoy teaching English but I don’t want to do it forever and the volunteering concept has always appealed to me:  Having adventures whilst helping people - like a superhero!  Brilliant.

So this year I took a gamble, turning down paid TEFL work in favor of a long-term voluntary position with Ecoteer at Jogja Wildlife Rescue Centre, Indonesia.  The internship utilized my English teaching but also taught me new skills and introduced me to conservation and ecotourism – sectors that interested me but in which I had no prior qualifications or experience.  I didn’t know quite what to expect but anticipated that it would be an unforgettable year and would “look good on the CV”. 

Volunteering is incredible and I would urge anyone to get involved – for the people you’ll meet, the discoveries you’ll make and the joy you’ll spread.  If you commit to a long-term project over several months, the benefits may be even greater.  You’ll build a relationship with a company from the inside, showing them you have passion and initiative rather than having to convince them.  Whatever your interests, you can find a volunteer placement to suit you and then bring your unique skills to the table.  I offered free yoga classes for volunteers at WRC Jogja and now Ecoteer pay me to teach yoga retreats at conservation projects all over Asia and to write about it – the perfect “dream job” that I never knew existed, tailored to my abilities! 
Volunteering has been a challenge that has helped me to learn, grow and play to my strengths.  I feel so lucky that I can do what I love and see the world at the same time.  There’s no telling exactly where volunteering will lead you – I never imagined where it would lead me – but the possibilities are endless and there’s nothing to lose.  Take that first step towards your dream and never look back.

You’ll find a great selection of long-term volunteer placements at:
For TEFL try:

Bio of writer, Ashley Michaelis
Karma Yomad (yogi-nomad) Ashley Michaelis is a globetrotter on a mission to explore yoga and the art of kindness.  A communication arts graduate, qualified masseuse and certified Ashtanga yoga instructor, she is currently based in Asia where she facilitates Karma Yoga retreats with Ecoteer, inviting fellow yomads to join her journey.  
Ashley has a diverse volunteering record reflecting her passion for the arts, education and conservation.  Perpetually mobile since 2009, she taught English as a Second Language for 3 years in Europe before her wanderlust reached intercontinental proportions.  Occasionally she returns home to England until she remembers about the weather. 

Meet Fantastic People like the staff and volunteers at WRC Jogja.

Lend a Hand: Sharing unforgettable moments and supporting endangered wildlife.

Use Your Skills:  Teaching Conservation English and yoga to kids from the local village.

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