Are you fascinated by people, their unique traditions, and exotic cultures? Do you like to try new dishes and new phrases? Or do you find it disconcerting, living like a local? Would you rather stay in a comfortable hotel, dining on familiar food? When you travel abroad you’re moving out of your comfort zone and it can be a bit scary. But when you immerse yourself in another person’s home, sometimes without running water or electricity, it can be very scary.
It takes a lot of courage to put yourself in someone else’s care, especially when your plan is to volunteer and improve lives. The experience creates a deeper understanding of your place on your volunteer program, and you find you’ve become the better person for having known them. Your perspective isn’t the only change when you conquer your fear. You have a change of heart.
When you travel to Morocco for the Amazigh Immersion in the Atlas Mountains with International Volunteer HQ, you’ll encounter the same feelings that Annelise did on her experience: “I truly couldn’t have asked for a better trip – my host family was fantastic, my placement made every day “working” so fun and exciting, and my extra excursions learning the culture and lifestyle were the best. Morocco is a beautiful country in terms of geography, culture, and all of its people.”
Or, go to Greece to work with refugees, and learn the meaning of the word “resilient” when you travel abroad with Cross-Cultural Solutions on a Gap Year tour.
You’ll also know you can accomplish anything after your trek to Mount Everest Base Camp on an adventure before volunteering in Nepal with Global Vision International.
Nelson Mandela once said, “I learned that courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”
What does it take to act courageously? You can teach yourself, boost your skills, and give yourself the tools to embrace something difficult. Or you can act out of anger, desperation, or guilt, letting adrenaline fuel your actions. Of course, the first process is preferable and enjoyable, however, there’s another motivation for being brave, and that is by doing something meaningful that makes you feel purposeful.
Try an adventure on for size with an organization that makes you feel safe, secure, and purposeful, such as the Andean Cultural Immersion in Peru with Maximo Nivel. Bradley, a volunteer with Maximo Nivel said of the experience, “Two weeks out in a small farming community in the sacred valley near Cuzco, Peru was at times quite challenging but a great opportunity to be of service – making a real difference in the lives of the community for the long term – while at the same time being able to immerse myself in the language and culture of the locals. The host family and community were wonderful as were the staff at Maximo Nivel.”
When you know you’re doing the right thing, for the right reasons you can be courageous.
You know it’s the right thing to do when you help to preserve a traditional way of life when you travel to Cambodia with Globalteer. Every day, youth are leaving smaller communities behind, flocking to larger cities for employment or excitement. When you show them you appreciate their unique culture and that it is special, they will feel a renewed sense of pride.
It’s not just a culture that’s disappearing. Fronteering has taken a stand in Canada, advocating wilderness research projects in a First Nation community. If you’re passionate about wildlife management and land use, you can help protect this fragile place.
When your actions directly impact someone else’s life, you discover your own strengths and gain insight into your goals. When you challenge yourself to expand beyond your comfort zone, you give yourself permission to grow and to understand others.
From the Yukon to the South Pacific, there are communities with important, yet fragile, traditions that need to be respected and protected. When you visit an indigenous community, you validate it, and this influences its people. If you’re considering a volunteer or adventure travel opportunity, consider an immersive experience with an authentic community. Keep reading to learn more about communities with authentic, and enduring cultures.
Featured Volunteer Programs
International Volunteer HQ
A pioneer of impactful travel, International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ) is a trusted, low-cost volunteer travel company connecting more than 15,000 people with programs abroad annually. Founded in 2007, IVHQ offers more than 200 affordable volunteer projects for socially conscious travelers that foster cultural exchange and enable volunteers to expand their skills and vision.
IVHQ offers placements in 40+ countries throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Pacific, many with fees starting at only $180. More than 85,000 volunteers have worked with IVHQ on programs around the world, with support for education and childcare, conservation and wildlife, community building, and medical care. IVHQ partners with local NGOs and organizations that invite volunteers to gain meaningful experiences, and to date has invested more than $11 million in communities abroad through program fees.
Andean Immersion Project
The pace is slower in the Andes Mountains outside of Cusco, Peru, giving you plenty of time to enjoy your Andean Immersion with IVHQ. On this placement, you’ll stay with a Quechua-speaking family (limited Spanish – no spoken English), sharing everyday life with your host and the community. You’re encouraged to tackle challenging jobs, including helping with construction and agriculture. Learn while planting, harvesting, storing, and transporting crops. If you enjoy working with animals, you can participate in herding, pasturing and feeding, cleaning pens, and collecting food. Be creative and learn about traditional weaving and how to make natural dyes by working with the women who create traditional textile products to sell at local markets. If you speak some Spanish, you can assist in teaching English classes. Be prepared for basic living with running water, but limited electricity and no internet.
Spend your weekends in Cusco, enjoying the sites of this Peruvian city. Hike to Machu Picchu or other archaeological sites. Socialize with other volunteers and relax after a challenging week of work. Fees start at $320 for one week. Read more here and sign up.
Amazigh Immersion – Atlas Mountains
When you volunteer in Morocco – Marrakech with IVHQ, you can choose from seven project options, including the Amazigh Immersion in the Atlas Mountains. The Amazigh (Berber) community consists of the descendants of the indigenous pre-Arab inhabitants of North Africa, and on this placement, you can work within their village and help with daily tasks. You’ll also teach them new skills to improve their quality of life. Teach basic English classes, or help with agricultural chores, including feeding animals, milking, and managing the newborns. Assist the farmers in plowing, seeding, weeding, and harvesting crops.
You’ll live in a homestay, living with a Berber family and other volunteers. This allows for cultural exchange, so you can learn about the Moroccan way of life, eat the cuisine, and enjoy the daily tradition of drinking mint tea. While in-country, hike the Atlas Mountains, a trekker’s paradise most months of the year. If you’re interested in traveling other parts of Marrakech and Morocco, IVHQ offers travel and tours in the region. Program fees for one week starting at $330. Click here to read more and register.
Global Vision International
Global Vision International (GVI) is a well-respected and prominent international volunteering organization that specializes in award-winning and high-impact conservation and community development programs. Founded in 1997, GVI projects focus on long-term, sustainable contributions as outlined in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. GVI places 2,000+ people on volunteer and intern programs each year. GVI works in the Americas, Europe, Asia, Australasia, and Africa with prolific organizations such as Save the Children, the Red Cross, WWF, SANParks, and the Jane Goodall Institute, as well as smaller, community-based organizations with grassroots initiatives. GVI has been featured in international publications including The Times, The Independent, The Guardian, and the BBC.
Community Development Expedition in Fiji
Home to the happiest people on Earth, the island of Fiji in the South Pacific is known for its luxurious private islands and outdoor adventures. It also has one of the most developed economies in the Pacific because of its rich forest, mineral, and fish resources. But that abundant economy doesn’t stretch to each of its 333 islands. You can help the underdeveloped areas of Fiji as a volunteer with a GVI community project, and enjoy this tropical destination during your free time. You’ll stay in the Dawasamu District working on a WASH (Water, Sanitation, Hygiene) project with five core focuses. They are health and nutrition, income generation, education enrichment and empowerment, and environmental management and protection.
Accommodations are in a basic dormitory, with meals cooked on a rotational basis. Project work often leaves weekends free for you to relax or explore. While in Fiji, you can swim in hidden waterfalls, hike in forests, and scuba dive or snorkel to your heart’s content. This program starts for two weeks at $2,395. Learn more and sign up here!
Volunteer and Adventure Experience in Nepal
Trek to Mount Everest Base Camp on an adventure before volunteering on community development projects in Nepal when you join GVI abroad. This program combines the best of both reasons for traveling: exhilarating challenges and compassionate giving. Nepal is known as one of the most spiritual countries in Asia, and this six-week project gives your four weeks on a placement of your choice, from volunteering with children to teaching conversational English and other subjects.
Other goals of this program are to support students’ understanding of healthcare, with an emphasis on prevention, and helping to develop the skills of women to improve their ability to earn a living and become more self-sufficient. You’ll be matched according to your skills and knowledge, and tasks can vary from English teaching, conservation-community based initiatives, sports, and computer skills are all areas which may need your assistance.
While in Nepal on your volunteer placement, you’ll stay with a host family. While trekking to base camp, you’ll stay in local tea houses (lodges). Most meals are included, as well as local tours, language and culture classes, orientation, white-water rafting the Trisuli River (two days), and the challenge of trekking to Everest Base Camp, including return flights from Kathmandu to Lukla. Fees for this amazing immersion starts at $4,095. More details are available here.
Maximo Nivel offers affordable volunteer, internship, and gap year opportunities, as well as Spanish immersion courses, TEFL certification, and teaching projects in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru. Founded in 2003, Maximo Nivel has worked with 25,000 students, volunteers, and adventure travelers to Latin America, placing them on high-quality, safe, and affordable programs in the areas of environmental conservation, business, hospitality, education, medical care, childcare, construction, and cultural exchange. Maximo Nivel programs and certifications are internationally accredited and university credit is available. It also offers world-class tours that allow people to experience the world through education, adventure, and cultural travel.
Volunteer with Indigenous Communities
Maximo Nivel offers two outstanding cross-cultural exchange opportunities in Latin America. Choose indigenous community immersion programs in Peru or Guatemala that allow you to expand your horizons as you work side-by-side with the families, providing an in-depth look into a traditional way of life. You’ll help with agricultural projects, tend to livestock, construct and renovate buildings, and teach children in a village classroom. Stay with a host family and enjoy the immersive experience as you taste new food and learn new traditions. This placement is active, so you need to be healthy and physically fit, ready to do any task. Choose from two locations:
Andean Cultural Immersion in Peru – Enjoy an authentic Peruvian experience, living and working with indigenous communities in Cusco on the Andean Cultural Immersion program. Stay in a small, Quechua-speaking community and learn a few words of the Quechua language. While in Peru, hike the trail to the breathtaking archaeological site of Machu Picchu.
Mayan Cultural Immersion in Guatemala – Surround yourself with breathtaking views on the Mayan Cultural Immersion program in Guatemala. This program invites you to experience the culture of a typical Kakchikel-speaking family in a rural farming community, about 30 minutes from Antigua by bus.
Spanish language skills are not required, but Maximo Nivel offers online lessons that can prepare you for your trip abroad. Your fee includes airport pickup, host family accommodations, breakfast and dinner, program orientation, official certificate of volunteer service, free salsa dance classes and cooking classes, and free tandem conversation program. Program fees start at $645 for one week. Read more here!
Love Volunteers provides fun, safe, rewarding, and affordable volunteer opportunities in developing communities throughout the world. With more than 120 programs, some with fees starting as low as $229 for one week, Love Volunteers is on a mission to empower communities by working directly with local charities on grassroots development projects. Founded in 2009, Love Volunteers has connected more than 20,000 volunteers and interns with meaningful projects in 34 countries worldwide, each reviewed by staff for safety, social responsibility, and impact.
Community Development in Argentina
Help to improve Perutí, an indigenous village in the Misiones jungle of Argentina, as a member of a community development project with Love Volunteers. This small community consists of 85 families who live in abject poverty, a result of commercial deforestation and exploitation of their lands. When this humanitarian assistance project began, its goal was to bring fresh water to the village. This accomplished, the goals have shifted to provide educational support for the impoverished and at-risk children and help improve the health and long-term well being of the members of this indigenous population.
This is a rare cross-cultural exchange opportunity that allows you to be a part of a small community as you impact their lives for the better. You’ll help deliver resources to schools, tutor children in a classroom setting, organize and host birthday parties, and assist program staff as needed. Stay at the volunteer house, a multi-story, dormitory in the neighborhood of San Cristobal in Buenos Aires. Breakfast is included, and the kitchen is available for you to prepare your other meals. Spend your free time exploring Buenos Aires, exploring the restaurants, cafes, bars and Churrascaria’s (Argentina’s famous BBQ joints). Fees for this program start at $779 for two weeks. Learn more here.
Cross-Cultural Solutions specializes in authentic cultural experiences and volunteer, intern, gap year, high school, and group placements in nine countries throughout Asia, Latin America, Africa, and Europe. Founded in 1995, Cross-Cultural Solutions is a leader in the field of international volunteering, with programs that range from child development, girls’ and women’s empowerment, and global health. More than 35,000 volunteers have contributed two million volunteer hours to improve education and health opportunities for children who need it most. In 2003, Cross-Cultural Solutions received Special Consultative status by the United Nations.
Around the World Gap Year Program
Go on a Gap Year tour around the world with Cross-Cultural Solutions! This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity takes you to some of the most inspiring places on the planet, letting you make a difference. Gap years give you a chance to be inspired, to get out of the classroom, and avoid academic burnout. You’ll experience vastly different cultures as you travel to five countries, from South America to East Africa and then on to Asia. Places you’ll visit with these volunteer projects include:
- Guatemala – learn about the ancient culture still alive in the Maya Highlands. (4 weeks)
- India – Work alongside inspiring leaders and social organizations to improve education and healthcare for women and children. (4 weeks)
- Ghana – help to alleviate the social strain by providing one-on-one attention for young Ghanaians, sparking creativity. (8 weeks)
- Greece – Distribute essential supplies to refugees here and help promote dignity for this population. (10 weeks)
- Morocco – Make an impact on the educational system by engaging children through lessons and activities. (6 weeks)
There are numerous cultural activities and sightseeing/adventures awaiting your 32 weeks abroad. Fees for this amazing experience start at $24,500. Learn more and reserve your spot.
Volunteer with Children in Tanzania
Leave your heart in Tanzania when you volunteer with children for Cross-Cultural Solutions. Travel to the small fishing community of Bagamoyo on the Indian Ocean, where fishermen use traditional techniques to earn a livelihood, including building the dhow sailboat. Enjoy cultural activities while you visit with local families, enjoying tea and sharing stories. Choose from:
- Child education – provide one-on-one attention, present engaging lessons, and more.
- Child health – offer health campaigns, build hand-washing stations, and more.
This community, once a part of the ancient city of Kaole, the capital of German East Africa, was founded in the late 18th century. It has a long history as a trade center for ivory and copra, as well as slaves. It was recently considered as a World Heritage Site, with ruins and tombs dating back to the 13th century. Many European explorers began their journeys into the heart of Africa in Bagamoyo, including Richard Burton and Henry Stanley. David Livingstone ended his journey here, as his body was laid to rest in the Old Church’s tower to wait for high tide.
Spend free time taking music and dance classes at the Bagamoyo College of Arts, the only public college of arts in East Africa, and home to the national dance company. Shop the Bagamoyo Art Market, located in the site of a historic slave fort, for a piece of Tanzanian art or craft. Catch a plane to Dar and explore the Savannah and spot the Big 5 in action. Explore the history and the maritime heritage of Bagomoyo on a one-week placement, or longer. Fees begin at $2,490 for one week. Click here to learn more.
Globalteer is a nonprofit UK charity offering projects that focus on assisting children and impoverished communities, as well as projects that improve animal welfare and encourage conservation. Founded in 2006, Globalteer works with NGOs in developing countries to place more than 4,000 volunteers on the impactful community, wildlife and conservation projects. Globalteer also is a member of Keeping Children Safe and is vetted by Global Giving. It’s provided more than $5 million in achieving its charitable objectives.
Volunteer with Cambodia Indigenous People
Help to preserve a culture and traditional way of life when you travel with Globalteer to Cambodia and work with the Bunong people. Based in the small town of Sen Monorom, this is an excellent placement for budding anthropologists with an interest in research. The Bunong language was based on oral tradition and until recently was not written. This project works to preserve the language and culture for future generations and also works with youth to navigate the education system that is based upon their second, non-native language. Tasks you’ll help with may include:
- Helping to proofread documents
- Cataloging information
- Collecting information from villagers
- Training volunteers to use social media
- Updating the project’s website
- Holding informal computer and English workshops for Bunong volunteers
- Helping to reinforce the value of culture so that it doesn’t become lost
You’ll stay in a private ensuite in a guest house. Meals are not included in this program, so be sure to budget accordingly. The area of Mondulkiri is renowned for its waterfalls and the lovely treks within easy reach of the town. You’ll also be able to visit a nearby elephant sanctuary. With placements from two to 12 weeks, fees start at $855. Read more and apply here.
Global Leadership Adventures
Global Leadership Adventures offers life-changing experiences and meaningful volunteer opportunities abroad to teens and high school students. GLA programs combine community service with adventure and hands-on learning, allowing participants to explore, learn, and serve. With the goal to cultivate and inspire youth in topics of social and global issues, GLA helps to develop a new generation of leaders. Founded in 2004, Global Leadership Adventures sends teens to 23 countries throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Global Leadership Adventures is a trusted international organization, and its co-founder was even recognized by President Barack Obama for making a positive impact in Africa.
Spanish Service Adventure in Peru
Improve your Spanish-speaking skills with a language immersion trip that combines volunteering in the community and an adventure hike with Global Leadership Adventures. Take part in the daily life and work of the indigenous Andean communities in Cusco, in the heart of the Inca Empire. You’ll be placed with other learners of the same level, and as you improve your Spanish communication skills, you’ll appreciate the cultural learning experiences, which include participating in Andean music and dance workshops, listening to talks about cosmology, and meeting the people of the farming communities. Sharpen your basic conversational skills as they perform everyday tasks such as farming and weaving.
Visit Machu Picchu, an Inca citadel in the Sacred Valley. You’ll walk ancient pathways to this cultural and natural UNESCO World Heritage Site. Established in the 15th century, Machu Picchu was the home of the Inca emperor Pachacuti. Activities and excursions, as well as workshops and lectures, are included in the program fee. Secondary medical and travel insurance, lodging and meals also are included. You’ll share accommodations and all meals are included. Tuition starts at $3,799 for two weeks. Read more and register!
Fronteering offers challenging volunteer placements and adventure travel in places off the beaten path that are rich in wildlife and indigenous cultures. Founded in 2007, Fronteering provides experiences and sustainable projects that improve communities, empower indigenous people, protect the environment, and preserve animals. Its projects focus on remote places that need the most help because there is more to lose, and more to gain, in these locales. Its adventure travel ranges from Arctic dog sledding to jungle survival expeditions, to wildlife and indigenous culture travel trips.
Wilderness Research Projects in Yukon, Canada
Venture into a beautiful and rugged landscape in the Yukon, Canada, and take part in Wilderness Research projects that benefit land and wildlife management in a First Nation community. In the shadow of breathtaking mountains, you’ll learn about the vibrant history of the area while you’re immersed in rich cultural traditions. You’ll need a love of the outdoors and a passion for wildlife on this program, assisting scientists as they perform environmental monitoring and wildlife assessments. Your tasks could include:
- Monitoring caribou populations
- Community ecological monitoring and vegetation surveys
- Songbird and raptor monitoring and bird banding
- Wetland monitoring (amphibian surveys, aquatic invertebrates, water quality, and soil sampling)
- Collecting heritage data
- Digging survey test pits with an archaeologist
- Working on fisheries with salmon restoration
Stay in rustic log cabins (wood stove but no running water) and enjoy the silence under the big sky outside of Whitehorse in Yukon, near the Alaska Highway. Three meals a day are provided. Sights to see while in the region include the SS Klondike sternwheeler, the Copperbelt Railway, and Mining Museum, Miles Canyon, and the Takhini Hot Springs. This program’s costs start at $945 for two weeks. Click here to learn more.
Global Volunteers connects people of all ages and skill levels on volunteer travel opportunities in 16 countries worldwide. Founded in 1984, Global Volunteers has placed more than 34,000 volunteers on impactful programs in the areas of teaching conversational English, math, science, and computer literacy; building, repairing, and painting community facilities; providing health, hygiene, nutrition, and infectious disease education; establishing school and household gardens; caring for at-risk children, and more. Global Volunteers was granted Special Consultative Status with the United Nations in 1999 and has partnered with UNICEF since 2008. Service program contribution, airfare, and visa expenses are tax-deductible for U.S. citizens.
Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana, USA
Join Global Volunteers on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana, USA, on community and education projects that benefit the Native American people living there. Choose from several different activities and lend your skills and knowledge to help improve a community in need:
- Repair and Maintenance
- Children’s Summer Program
- Elder Assistance
- Crisis Care
Immerse yourself in the Blackfeet culture, home for the Siksikaitsitapi people, and work alongside children, adults, artists, clergy, natural healers, and tribal leaders as you gain an insider’s perspective of Native American life. Accommodation is in a dormitory-style community facility, with large rooms and bathrooms divided by gender. Meals are included. Located east of Glacier National Park, the reservation contains the Badger-Two Medicine area, sacred to the Blackfeet people. Fees start at $1,095 for one week. Read more here.
Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, USA
Travel to South Dakota, USA, and lend a hand with Global Volunteers at the Rosebud Reservation, home to the Sicangu Oyate people, a branch of the Lakota Nation, on a community project. A historic location, the reservation was originally part of the Great Sioux Reservation, created in 1868 by the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Rosebud was partitioned in 1889, and like many reservations, it struggles with unemployment over 80%, with many residents living below the poverty line. As a volunteer, you’ll help to improve homes and community buildings. Skills and knowledge you can share include:
- Home repair
- Electrical and plumbing
- Splitting firewood
You’ll stay in a dormitory with same-gender volunteers, and all meals are included. While in South Dakota, visit its iconic landmarks, including the Black Hills National Forest. Mount Rushmore’s granite sculpture of four American presidents, and the Crazy Horse Memorial, a tribute to the storied Native American tribal leader. Program fees start at $1,095 for one week. Learn more and apply here.
Ready to Embrace New Cultures?
Traveling abroad and volunteering in a community, especially an indigenous or aboriginal community, gives you a better understanding of the challenges other people face, and it breaks down stereotypes. When you let the barriers down, you learn that being a global citizen comes with responsibilities that have moral, ethical, political, and economic. Once you’ve been in the company of people who work to raise awareness and campaign for the rights of others, it’s difficult to stop. Once you’ve traveled abroad and embraced new cultures, what will you do with with your new-found awareness?
Robin Van Auken · Writer
Robin is a researcher, writer, and a registered professional archaeologist, a skillset she uses every day as a cultural communication specialist with Hands-on Heritage. Her projects connect communities with an emphasis on interpretation and education and conserve cultural and environmental legacies.