The unspoken expectations of international volunteers
What motivates volunteers to apply and join an NGO abroad is necessarily connected to their expectations. When these are not explicitly expressed, or even understood, they generate misunderstandings and discomfort which result in a bad experience for both the volunteer and the hosting organization. That is why expectations must be detected and taken into account! Transparency above all.
Volunteers decide to work abroad for a number of reasons. Most of them can be encompassed by two “macro-reasons”:
- Socio-cultural: the desire to live a cultural and human experience by getting to know new people, a new culture and a new country
- Professional: to boost and improve someone’s CV (or enable a career change) by developing new skills and living new personal and professional experiences
Even if one doesn’t exclude the other, usually one of these “macro-reasons” has priority over the other, defining most of the volunteer’s expectations. So, for the experience to be a success, the work-plan proposed (activities, commitment, responsibilities) must reflect these expectations.
If this is not the case, it would be good to adapt the programme. And what if that is not possible? Sometimes, the best thing to do is to be transparent with volunteers and ask them if volunteering with your NGO is really what they want to do.
What unspoken expectations can we expect from volunteers with socio-cultural motivations?
Volunteers motivated by this “macro-reason” want to have the experience of a lifetime. They look for direct contact with the local community, even when they don’t speak the language. Above all, they desire to have an exchange with the people (adults or children) so they love work-plans with workshops, teaching, tutoring, sport, art projects and home-stay accommodation with a local family.
They are impatient to take part in events and cultural festivals, to visit everything that can be visited, but not like a tourist! Like a traveler, like a careful and respectful guest. Having some free time in their hands is good news to them, and they value invitations to join, or advice about, sustainable tourism experiences, such as safari to discover the local nature and visits to rural communities to find out about their living style.
And what unspoken expectations can we expect from volunteers with professional motivations?
If the individual is moved by motivations related to the professional “macro-reason”, it is necessary to propose a different kind of experience. Sure, even these volunteers would happily join a sustainable tourism trip or lead activities with members of the community. However, their priorities are others.
They are ready to work really hard and for many hours every day. They need to see progression on their work-plan in order to have the feeling that they have learned something and that they can use the new skill. In addition, they tend to prefer to work side-by-side with the staff, to learn from them and become part of the team by doing what they do, even by joining ordinary meetings.
These volunteers wish to assume some sort of responsibility and welcome challenges. They want to join the organization at a level that allows them to put into good use what they can do best, their profession. For example, even if their role is to lead recreational activities for children, they want to have or define short and long-term goals, they want to monitor progress and to get to know the beneficiaries’ stories. In short, profession-driven volunteers do not need a work-plan with very different activities, but a different level of involvement with your organization.
Finding out about international volunteers’ motivations to understand their expectations
Obviously, it is not possible to prepare an adequate work-plan if we don’t know the volunteer’s motivations. Some individuals have them super clear and we just need to ask them, pointing out that transparency is the way to go or proposing some kind of test we have developed.
Others, instead, don’t have a clear idea of why they have decided to volunteer abroad. It is then the volunteers’ coordinator job to “dig” into their intentions (through a chat on Skype or a meeting) and find out what their real expectations are.