Summary of Go Global Expo 2012 in Toronto
“Am I too old for this?”
During the two-day Go Global Expo in Toronto with the Volunteer Forever team, I heard this question multiple times but was never less surprised. Too old to volunteer?! How could this be possible? The people asking the question were of a wide range of ages, and were just as surprised to hear my answer to the question as I was to hear it in the first place.
Many people associate the volunteer abroad movement with young people – high school students on mission trips or recent college graduates taking a gap year. In reality, this group does make up the largest subset of those who volunteer abroad. However, the volunteer abroad movement exists far beyond the youth travel trend. Many organizations seek out volunteers that aren’t young at all. There has been a recent rise in “Boomer Volunteering” where Boomers, desired for their reliability, large skill set, and ability to volunteer long-term, find themselves happily volunteering abroad through retirement. This arrangement works perfectly for both the organizations and the volunteers, because one gets the benefit of a highly-productive volunteer, while the other gets the gift of a working community where their skills are simply invaluable.
Aside from the older volunteers, I was excited to see many other kinds of diversity at the Go Global Expo. There were couples wanting to take career breaks but still use their skills, families who wanted to educate their children over the summer by volunteering abroad, and students who realized what an asset practical international experience would be to their future career. There were volunteers of many different ethnic backgrounds, economic status, and education levels. All of these prospective volunteers had likely become interested in volunteering abroad in a different way, but they were united in their goal to make change and to make it practically. Many of the people I talked to were very informed about the volunteer abroad movement and asked questions that demonstrated just how dedicated they are to their goal of making positive change on an international level.
If the types of people I encountered at the Go Global Expo were any indication of the future of volunteer abroad, I couldn’t be more excited. Having a diverse group of volunteers is crucial to the future of volunteering abroad, and is perhaps the best way that we can keep the movement from being seen as something only for the young or for those who can afford it. In order for volunteering abroad to reach its height as a true movement, we must encourage the participation of people of every skill-level, age, and background. By removing the financial barriers to volunteering abroad and providing a review system to help volunteers choose quality programs, Volunteer Forever is taking one step down this path for the future of meaningful travel.