5 Things You Learn through International Humanitarian Travel

November 6, 2017

Whether you’re joining the Peace Corps or you just discovered a great voluntourism opportunity, going overseas for humanitarian travel is an amazing experience. Most people don’t really know what to expect, and others expect something far out of left field. In reality, your first trip abroad will never conform to your expectations. Luckily, the following are a few lessons that you can utilize on your journey abroad.

1. Perspective Is Huge

In wealthy countries, people get upset if they lose cell service. In third-world countries, children often walk around malnourished and with tattered clothing. However, anyone who has done international humanitarian work understands that this doesn’t mean they’re joyless.

In fact, many citizens overseas find exceptional happiness in the little things. People occupying the lowest rung of the socioeconomic ladder will still brighten your day with a smile just because they’re happy to see you.
What you own isn’t all that matters. What really matters is your perspective.

2. Learning How to Say ‘No’

When you travel overseas for humanitarian work, you may find yourself going out of your way to make everyone happy. What you must realize is that, if you don’t learn to say ‘no,’ you’ll end up having coffee with 20 people a day and spending all of your free time entertaining company at your home.

People overseas will typically be excited to welcome a foreigner into their land. If you don’t learn to say ‘no’ occasionally, you’ll never have any time to relax alone.

3. You Can’t Judge a Culture by Its Cover

If you’re leaving for humanitarian travel, you likely did some research on the country you’re visiting — in between looking for cheap international flights, of course. You probably learned as much as possible about your destination’s culture so you could integrate immediately.

You should drop that expectation now. People who travel to Rwanda, for instance, hear that being LGBT is frowned upon in the country. Yet when they get off the plane, they see men strolling down the road holding hands. This is just what friends of the same sex do.

Recognize that no amount of research will unearth everything about a culture.

4. Learning of Exceptional Injustice

Every country has some form of injustice within their system, but once you step into the international humanitarian role, you’ll see things you never imagined. For instance, in South Africa, countless people are still living in the shanty towns erected during Apartheid.

In Rwanda, you’ll learn of a genocide that took place less than 25 years ago. It was a genocide that the world ignored and that only ended when guerrilla fighters on the run took over the nation.

You may see examples of injustice in your own country, but understand that this will likely leave you unprepared for what you’ll see during your voluntourism opportunity.

5. How Far a Dollar Goes

Recent statistics show that around 22 percent of the world lives on less than $1.25 USD a day. This sounds absolutely horrible, and in reality, it is. However, it’s important to note that an American dollar goes much further in some countries than in America. If your voluntourism is in Africa, you could easily find a nice hotel to stay at for $5 or less a night.

Unfortunately, those in need overseas don’t typically get the benefit of having American dollars. If you show up in a third-world country with $10 in your pocket, it will take you far. If this does nothing else, it helps most people recognize what privilege truly is.

Regardless of where your voluntourism opportunity takes you, you’ll learn more about a culture in one month than you could ever hope to in a lifetime back home. Between the new people and novel scenery, you’ll bring back an understanding that few ever reach. Just realize that it may be difficult for others to fully appreciate what you experienced.