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Guest Post: Volunteering Abroad With Anxiety By Astrid Halliday

There are many different reasons why travellers choose to volunteer abroad and help in another country. Personally, my reason was because I wanted to boost my confidence and step outside my comfort zone.

It worked wonders, not only did it raise my confidence it helped reduce my social anxiety. Upon returning I even looked to see if there was evidence to back this and it is true!Volunteering improves your mental health and has favourable effects on depression, life satisfaction and wellbeing.

Other volunteers were also helping overseas for similar reasons to myself, to help with managing their mental health. The coordinator even mentioned that many volunteers included a mention on their application form, that they take a form of anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication.

While volunteering abroad helped my anxiety, it wasn’t a walk in the park. I worked myself up and my first obstacle I had to overcome was sharing a house with a handful of other volunteers. I am an only child and previously had only shared accommodation with my parents. Living with others and being around a group of people twenty-four seven scared me, even more without my own room to retreat to if I became overwhelmed!

After my first night I realised my fears were unnecessary. Most volunteers decide to embark on the adventure of volunteering abroad solo, around sixty or seventy percent had arrived by themselves. Everybody was a stranger to each other, this made making friends so much easier as you weren’t an outsider stepping in, everyone was in the same boat and made an effort to welcome you and help you settle in.

Volunteering with a group of likeminded people and being with them all of the time wasn’t scary at all, in fact it was so much fun! Normal everyday chores such as cooking and cleaning became hilarious fun and games. We found ourselves relaxing and socialising until the early hours of the morning. My favourite part of volunteering abroad was the freedom to simply get on with being yourself, literally no one cares.

I’m not sure if I was lucky or all volunteer programmes are like this, but I never experienced any cliques on any of the projects while volunteering abroad. I would imagine that this would change if you chose to volunteer on a more expensive project, with more middle classed ‘gap yah’ mentality college graduates.

I met a great selection of generous people from a wide range of backgrounds. Before travelling I suspected that the majority of volunteers would be students, however, I met people that worked in call centres, retirees, people who had quit their jobs and decided to travel and many people.The most affordable project I went on was with Original Volunteersto Cambodia and was only $15 a week, this project had the greatest variety of volunteers, there were even one or two unemployed volunteers who had decided to travel.

Projects also had a handful of international volunteers. I met some American and Canadians, as well as many other European volunteers. From my experience and talking to other travellers who have volunteered, if you’re looking for greater diversity in your volunteer group, it might be best to apply with a European organisation or charity.You can do everything via emails and skype calls nowadays anyway, there is no longer a need to be in the same country as an organisation you use.

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