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Why volunteering will change your life

If you’re the kind of person who loves exploring new ideas and experiences, you’re probably open to global opportunities. Volunteering can take you around the world, from teaching in a remote community in the Northern Territory to doing a clinical rotation in Vietnam or taking on a construction project in Zimbabwe.

But back in reality at high school, the pressure is on you to focus on study and start planning for your future. So what if your future could include some of those really amazing, life-changing experiences? According to Gavin Walker, Graduate Recruitment Services Manager at Deakin University, volunteering can give you just that.

‘It helps you to develop social and technical skills that you can’t get in an academic setting,’ Walker says. ‘You’ll have access to a breadth of knowledge from co-volunteers and leaders of host organisations, and get the opportunity to build a diverse network – and get a different perspective on work and life too.’

This article gives you insights into the benefits of volunteering and inspiration for adventures that will allow you to connect with new people, support communities in need and learn new skills.

Step out of the classroom and into the real world

Volunteering in the real world can help you develop a sense of place, giving you the opportunity to work in places you’ve only dreamed of. It brings education to life and complements classroom learning.

Chris Hale travelled to Fiji to volunteer at the country’s first marine park reserve and was able to learn everything by hand rather than out of a textbook. ‘It was an unbelievable experience and I got taught all about coding fish, replanting coral and heard directly from locals about what the effects of global warming are doing to the small island nations,’ Chris explains.

Sophie Jamieson took on a seven-week community placement with the Child Nutrition Program team at Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women’s Council in Central Australia. She experienced the disadvantages remote Aboriginal communities face with poverty, disease and employment. ‘This experience has not only taught me how to be a better health professional but also taught me how to be a more humble, respectful and accepting person,’ Sophie reflects.

Get out of your comfort zone and learn about yourself

Volunteering is character-building, which means it comes with its challenges – culture shock, no home comforts and emotional goodbyes. But the good experiences often outweigh the bad. When you’re out of your comfort zone you have to develop new skills to cope with all the change.

Living away from home can be isolating, as Alex Suwitra experienced while on an internship building social enterprises in South India. ‘It was a huge challenge, living away from all of the other interns and in very hot and high-pressure conditions, faced with language and cultural barriers at every turn. I learned so much about myself and had to step totally outside of my comfort zone,’ Alex says.

Moving from an urban setting to a remote community certainly has its challenges, explains Kylie Triegaardt, recalling how she became homesick for her husband and little girls back home when she volunteered in Cambodia. ‘It teaches you respect for people’s different points of view, and humility toward your fellow volunteers and the people and kids you work with. It reminds you not to take things for granted.’

Organising fundraising and travelling can be hard, albeit rewarding, work; before Chris travelled to the marine park in Fiji, the preparations were intense. ‘Travelling in a large group required a lot of social skills and compromising with particular issues,’ he recalls.

'You'll have access to a breadth of knowledge from co-volunteers and leaders of host organisations, and get the opportunity to build a diverse network – and get a different perspective on work and life too.'

Gavin Walker,
Graduate Recruitment Services Manager, Deakin University

Boost your resume and make an impression with employers

You’ll have plenty of unforgettable stories to tell when you’ve volunteered. Employers pay attention to the quality of your volunteering work and will challenge you at interviews to outline what you got from the experience, both good and bad. ‘Giving back to those in need is seen as a positive character trait and a skill that’s highly valued by employers,’ Walker says.

Volunteering gives you experiences that you can talk to your potential employer about, to show your enthusiasm and passion for a job well done. ‘If you can take those lessons learnt through your experiences, articulate them effectively, you immediately become that bit more employable,’ Walker advises.

Kylie adds: ‘at times you’re faced with your own conflict as you try to fit into an environment that is foreign to you – having a “go get ‘em” attitude and being able to think outside the box are what employers want’.

After volunteering for various conservation causes across Australia, Hannah Moloney got her dream job working in dolphin and whale research in the Maldives. Hannah believes her story is possible for anyone to emulate. ‘If you are passionate about something, go for it. Don’t worry if it’s going to bring you money or not, put happiness and experiences first. Money and good things will follow if you are truly happy,’ she says.

There’s no doubt that volunteering can give you a life-changing experience in which you’ll find out things you didn’t know about yourself, boost your self-confidence and learn skills you can’t get in the classroom. Best of all, you’ll meet new people, build networks and have a whole lot of fun. Kylie speaks for many when she says, ‘I would do it again in a heartbeat’.

Want to transform your potential into your reality? Find out how Deakin can help.

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Gavin Walker
Gavin Walker

Graduate Recruitment Services Manager, Deakin University

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