The Complete Guide to Volunteering in Europe
(we call it Experteering)
Anybody can visit Europe. But if you really want to experience the rich culture, great food, and inspiring people, you’ll have to invest more than money.
While parts of Europe are incredibly developed, not all countries are equal. In fact, many European countries have dangersously high poverty rates. However, Europe's connectivity amongst the countries across the region, as well as with the world at large, make it a hotbed of social innovation. By sharing your business, professional, and/or technical skills with these innovative European led organizations, you can help them catalyze innovation and accelerate their progress. This sort of volunteering is commonly called skills-based volunteering or Experteering.
But, before jumping at the first volunteering project you see, here are some tips to make sure you have the experience of a lifetime.
Finding the Right Volunteer Project in Europe
Europe has many promising emerging markets, and recent reports show that it has the potential to empower millions of people. This will largely driven by local entrepreneurs creating new solutions for its people.
For that opportunity to be realized, volunteer should focus not on doing, but on transferring skills to locally-led organizations and their people. So when you search for a project in Europe, beyond ensuring that it is safe, and legitimate, make sure it can create a long-term impact, too. To ensure that a volunteering opportunity is legitimate, ask yourself these questions:
- Does this opportunity use my real skills?
- Is this something that a local could be doing? Is it possible that I’m taking a local job?
- Will the tasks I will be completing leave a lasting impact on the organization and the surrounding community?
- Are the goals and objectives I am being asked to complete locally driven?
- Is the host organization reputable?
There are many organizations that make sure the volunteering opportunities they post are through organizations that operate in an ethical and sustainable manner. Some include: VSO International (Voluntary Service Overseas), MovingWorlds, Cuso International, and Peace Corps.
Examples of Volunteering Projects in Europe
We've supported Experteers work on a wide variety of projects, from monitoring and evaluation to education, architecture to fair-trade fashion, food to fitness. As this is a diverse part of the world, there are a wide variety of projects in every country with nonprofits, school, social enterprises, and community groups.
Best Practices While Volunteering in Europe
When you get to your destination, there is a right (and wrong) way to volunteer in a way that truly makes an impact. First, you should outline clearly defined goals that are created in partnership with your hosting organization. Beyond that, following these rules will help create positive outcomes for all parties:
- Support locally initiated projects, to make sure that the work will continue after you leave.
- Train local staff to take over your work so that the transition after you leave will be seamless.
- Spend more time teaching than doing.
- Do what’s best for the host organization, not what’s most interesting to you.
- Embrace cultural differences and discuss with your host the differences you might have, and how you can use those to your advantage.
- Check in with your team consistently to make sure everyone is on the same page about tasks and timelines for projects.
Take this free training for international volunteering best practices through Udemy, and review this complete guide to volunteering your skills overseas.
Cultural and Communication Tips to be an Effective Volunteer in Europe
It is important to understand the cultural differences that Europen countries have from other parts of the world so that you can work and communicate effectively with your partners while you're abroad.
As an example, people in Europe tend to be family and relationship-focussed, long-term focussed, and cooperative. However this can vary by country. As a more specific example, Geert-Hofetede's cultural comparison of Greece shows that
"in this country people from birth onwards are integrated into the strong, cohesive in-group (especially represented by the extended family; including uncles, aunts, grandparents and cousins) which continues protecting its members in exchange for loyalty. This is an important aspect in the working environment too, where for instance an older and powerful member of a family is expected to “help” a younger nephew to be hired for a job in his own company. From an Individualist culture this could be perceived as nepotism (= negative perception) but in collectivistic societies is a normal behavior. In business it is important to build up trustworthy and long lasting relationships: a meeting usually starts with general conversations in order to get to know each other before doing business."
Use Kwintessential and other country-specific travel guides to learn more about customs and social norms.
Finishing Your Project and Recapping Your Story
When you return from your trip it is essential that you keep in touch with your host organization: We like to say that success happens after you leave. This is because success should be measured by what happens after you leave. By doing what you can to ensure your work lives on after you leave, you can also ensure that the work you did made, and continues to make, a real impact.
You should also make sure to reflect on your experience during and after your overseas experience. There are several reflection strategies you can use to promote your own learning and improve happiness. You should also be sharing your stories with as many people as possible about your experience with the aim to inspire others to go volunteering abroad and do good, just like you!
Share your story with the #Experteering hashtag
Additional Tips While Volunteering in Europe
Here are some additional resources to help you plan, fund, and prepare for your trip, if you do decide to travel and volunteer in Europe:
Europe is a beautiful part of the world that is very easy to get to from almost everywhere. With projects starting as short as 1 week, you can make an impact and transfer skills while on vacation or during a short sabbatical. Considering that the majority of opportunities posted through Movingworlds.org offer free accommodation during your stay, we hope you'll take the time to help Europe prosper, and that you keep this guide in mind to ensure that the work you do is done in partnership with the local, sustainable, and impactful to all hose involved - including you!
So get out there and seize your next life adventure in Europe. We promise you’ll find that immersive life-changing experience you’ve been searching for!