When an assignee arrives in their host country, it can be hard to find community outside of work or children’s school friends. Many expatriates report a desire to make local friends and experience more in their host location, but don’t have a clear idea of how they can, particularly when a language barrier is in play.
Volunteering can be a great way to become part of a community, improve your language skills by using them in practice, and do good at the same time. In many cases, volunteer organizations have positions that can be done with limited language ability. In Japan, I walked dogs and cleaned kennels for an animal shelter and packed lunches for a soup kitchen. Neither required a high command of the language, but were necessary, hands-on tasks, and similar to volunteer work I had experience in. If there’s a social problem you’re passionate about in your home country, there are likely locals working on the same issue in your host country. Genuine belief in the good of a project will go a long way towards building relationships with others who are invested in the same issue, regardless of their backgrounds.
Volunteering abroad is not without challenges. Even if you’ve been involved in similar outreach in your home country, locals may have a different way of approaching situations, different or fewer resources than you are used to, or have to take cultural factors you aren’t aware of into account. The local chapter of international volunteer organizations can also be an accessible inroad to local volunteering. Many of these international groups are listed in Living Abroad’s sections on Clubs and Organizations in our destination reports. Some companies even work in partnership with charities in the host location; Human Resources may be able to tell you if this is the case.
Assignees’ unique positions as a global workforce can bring extra value to volunteer organizations. They may be able to organize international fundraisers, offer to create a website in their native language, or write an article for a newspaper back home to spread awareness. Global mobility offers us opportunities to give back on a worldwide scale, and those who take advantage of these opportunities are likely to have a more fulfilling time in their host country.
Written by Kate Havas, GMS-T, Content Manager