Nine steps to having it all: balancing international volunteer work and your career.
- Get your professional work in order.
Speak with your immediate supervisor about your desire to volunteer, well before you even have an assignment. Understand and address your supervisors concerns about how your leave may affect the office. Talk to other GVE volunteers (join GVE's Yahoo!Group) about their success balancing work and volunteering.
- Check with your company to ensure you have ample vacation time or permissible leave available.
Natural disasters are unpredictable so short-notice assignments can exclude many volunteers who aren't prepared in-advance with enough vacation time or leave of absence time. Check with your employer's Human Resources Department about your benefits. Get your vacation time, "comp" days, and leaves of absence terms squared away now.
- Get a valid passport.
To travel internationally, you will need a passport. If you already have a passport, check to be sure it remains valid for travel because passports EXPIRE! Getting a passport without incurring large expense will take several weeks. Visit your local U.S. Post Office to obtain an application.
- Get vaccinations.
Most vaccinations come in a series of injections over a period of several months. These days, most vaccinations are good for up to ten years. Regardless of where you plan to go, getting shots now is good planning. They won't go to waste. Call you local hospital and ask for the travel clinic.
- Check insurance for overseas coverage.
You want to be sure well in advance that your health insurance will cover medical emergencies in the country where you will be traveling. Some plans don't cover certain countries, but it is up to you to check the coverage. Check to see if "emergency evacuation" is included. Speak with your insurance provide or your employer's Human Resources Department to find out about your specific health insurance benefits.
- Talk to your family!
Just as it is important to talk to your boss, it is equally important to talk to your family about your plans to get involved in international volunteer work. Husbands, wives, parents, and other loved ones may get very nervous if you are traveling to dangerous or exotic places. Talk to them now, read travel books and articles about aid work together, and help them to be as enthusiastic about your plans as you are. Prepared with a knowledge before you travel, they are more likely to support you rather than worry needlessly when you do take the travel plunge.
- Learn culture and customs.
Should I tip the waitress? Do I eat with my fingers? Do I bow or shake hands? When do I remove my shoes? Is picture taking appropriate? Knowing the cultures and customs of your destination will make your trip much more pleasant. Most travel books will give you the basics but read more than one book and books of different types. Try to learn a few key words or phrases in the native language. Just trying to speak someone else's language make a GREAT impression. Even if you don't have a destination just yet, start reading up on places where GVE volunteers have gone in the past.
- Read the newspaper.
Have you ever sat down to a meal with someone you just met and couldn't think of anything to talk about? Read newspapers with a good international section and follow stories about other countries. When you have a specific destination in mind, read its local newspaper. Many national newspapers are available on-line. Find the name of a respected newspaper in your target country and follow some stories. Knowledge of local news and interests will help you start that conversation!
- Learn more by talking with other experience travelers and volunteers.
Reading is a great way to learn about a country but speaking with those who have been there is the best. Ask around your office or seek other GVE volunteers (try the Yahoo!Group) and ask about their travels. Travels guides won't list "Lucy's" in San Carlos Lempa, El Salvador... but all GVE volunteers know it's the best "eats & entertainment" in town.