Global service is becoming a popular new way of seeing the world. Individuals are traveling to all corners of the globe to help build houses, teach English, and more. For a lot of people, this global volunteer work is the most attractive form of travel. Not only do you get the chance to give back to the world while traveling, but you end up getting as much (if not more) than what you give. But what exactly do you have to gain from joining a global service project? Well, for starters, here are five things you will learn from global service.
1. You will learn how to adapt to any and all situations
When you engage in a global service project, you are signing up to be thrown outside of your comfort zone. You will be in a culture drastically different than your own, living with far fewer luxuries, and often surrounded by people who do not speak your native language. It may sound scary—and let’s face it, at times it is—but once you learn how to thrive in these conditions, you will feel as though you can thrive anywhere. Global service teaches us how to find our center no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in.
2. You will learn where your limits lie and how to push past them
During one of my first global service projects I stayed in a sparse concrete room with no running water. I took cold bucket showers every morning and got served an identical breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day for two months. But you know what I told people when they asked how my trip was? I told them it was the most incredible experience of my life. And I wasn’t lying. I learned more about myself and what I can withstand in those two months than I had in the 18 years of life that had come before. Don’t be surprised if you walk away from your first global service project feeling stronger and more capable than ever before.
3. You will learn how to connect to people without language
Of the many global service projects I have done, only one was with a community that spoke English as their first language. The language barrier can sound like a hurdle, and in some ways it is, but all in all I think the language barrier is one of the greatest gifts of global service. Because when you can’t speak to one another, you can’t waste time with small talk or get hung up on your different opinions. Instead, you are able to drop into a deeper connection; the kind of connection that can only come from trying to mime your way through dinner talk. If I had to pick one top lesson that global service has taught me, it would be this: people are people no matter where you go, and that’s enough to form a powerful connection over.
4. You will learn to respect the complexity of global issues
When I left home for the first time to travel and volunteer for five months, I thought I was going to change the world. I saw myself as a savior leaving home to fix the world’s problems, one country at a time. I never lost my passion for global service, but I came home with a much more realistic view as to the role of service on a global scale. The more I traveled and worked with different communities, the more I realized how complicated all of these issues are. There are no quick fixes to the world’s problems, but serving around the world will give you a much more complete understanding of the depth of global issues and what we can honestly do to help.
5. You will learn that the best thing you can give is love and kindness
I’ve given money. I’ve given food. I’ve given school supplies, fresh water, clothing, and more. Of course all of these things were appreciated and helped many people, but over and over again there was one thing that I gave when serving abroad that was most appreciated and most impactful: my unconditional love and kindness. And while my material gifts could help in a tangible way, I continued to see that my most valuable gift could not be quantified. No matter where you go in the world, there is nothing as powerful as extending love and kindness to those around you.
These are the top five lessons I have learned from a long commitment to global service, but the truth is, the list is endless. If you really want to know everything global service has to teach you, get out there and give it a try for yourself!