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Want to understand the world better? Try being an international voluntourist

It’s kind of sad to be writing an article that will focus so much on traveling given the current predicament we all find ourselves in! But then again, it’s a great reminder for two things. There is always light at the end of the tunnel and only together can we overcome this pandemic, which we will! So, if we can overcome the pandemic in due time, we should be able to overcome climate change, blame games, and constant misunderstandings caused by different ideologies. Sounds simple right? Certainly, it’s not or certainly, it is. I leave this one up to you.

So, who is an international voluntourist?

First, voluntourist is not a real word. I just made that up. However, voluntourism is a real activity. It normally means when people choose to travel within their country or outside of their country to volunteer with charitable organizations or volunteer individually. So, would you want to be a voluntourist? You get to travel, help charitable organizations put a smile on people who need help, learn lifestyles and cultures and get to taste amazing new foods! Most importantly being an international voluntourist helps us enhance our cultural intelligence, emotional literacy, and ability to understand people from different corners of the world. In essence, we take the first step to building bridges.

Why is international voluntourism important?

Before providing an opinion on the importance of international voluntourism I’d like to give some context to the term international voluntourism.

Undoubtedly, to develop cultural intelligence, understand people from different cultures and parts of the world, traveling and experiencing all of the mentioned by oneself is key. However, not all traveling helps us to enlighten ourselves with cultural intelligence. Before the pandemic, tourism, business travel, leisure travel was booming but that does not necessarily mean the world was culturally, ideologically, peacefully connected, and collectively in general acceptance. In contrast, the world was already at a growing disconnect, cultural misunderstandings, ideological unacceptance, and growing crevasses waiting to be cracked wide open in a matter of time.

This article is not trying to push forward the notion that every time we travel, we need to learn about different cultures. Most times experience takes care of that part. Furthermore, most of us also travel for business, leisure, and or visiting loved ones, and enhancing cultural intelligence or understanding people from different cultures may not be the top priority, which is totally fine and understandable. Instead, it calls upon those individuals seeking to bridge our diverse world together and build bridges for a more understanding, prosperous, and peaceful future.

This brings us to the next mode of experiencing cultures from different countries. Social media. Content creation from bloggers and vloggers. News channels, newspapers, articles, and so on so forth. First off, it is important to acknowledge and appreciate that there is some amazing and meaningful content aimed at building bridges by vloggers and bloggers, and normal citizens across the world. Influencers, sports celebrities, and celebrities also commonly play their role in building bridges between different countries. However, coincidently, social media platforms also happen to be full of negative, misleading, smearing content which makes it extremely hard to filter out the right information. Some examples of such misunderstandings stem from how the internet and social media have been responsible for crises like the Arab Spring, misinformation and hate spreading of Asians during the pandemic, and many other media channels that show half pictures of countries based entirely on political agendas.

This leaves us, normal consumers of social media, with a lot of information filtering to do, which may not always be possible. In our fast-paced lives, two of the following things can happen. Either we consume too much information that’s at our disposal which could be detrimental to how we view things. The other possibility is shutting ourselves out and become ignorant of what’s happening around us. The end result is that we lose our cultural intelligence over time and as a result make it harder to build bridges. This can only lead to more misunderstandings.

Could we have the best of both worlds?

Yes! Why not! This is where international voluntourism and being an international voluntourist come into the picture. It can be implemented through the right organizational structure for anyone from the middle, high school students to working professionals, senior citizens. International voluntourism means traveling for a cause which could be partaking in helping lower-income societies in different countries, indigenous societies, abused and recovering members of society, and physically challenged members of society. One could do this individually but for safety reasons, it may be better to experience this with registered NGOs and organizations that specialize in this. Being part of such meaningful experiences can help to build bridges in the following ways:

  • Cultural intelligence: When you volunteer you have the opportunity to intricately interact with local cultures, learn languages and understand the problems people face. It gives us a different perspective, one that we may not find on a leisure trip whilst checking into fancy hotels and experiencing lavish touristic places or city life. On the surface, almost every city looks and feels good. But only through understanding normal people can we gain that much needed cultural intelligence

  • Social impact: By interacting and working with communities in need you can greatly impact their society. Learn from their lifestyles, improve their lifestyles, and contributing to their betterment. No amount of social media content or documentary content can teach this to you via the internet.

  • Relationship currencies: Voluntourism opens the door to connect with different like-minded people from different countries creating a powerful diverse culture. Lifelong friendships can be fostered and various projects plans, ideas, and goals can be collectively achieved over a period of time.

  • Traveling: Voluntourism allows you to travel to different countries in a cost-effective manner ticking off countries from your bucket list!

So, What next?

Some steps you can take to be an international voluntourist whether you are a student, working professional, entrepreneur, or homemaker can be to join NGOs involved in voluntourism such as International Volunteer HQ, AIESEC, the UN Volunteer program, or the Pro Bono Volunteers. Additionally, you can also check with your own local NGOs if they are interested in organizing such programs and widening their horizon of experiences to offer. While it is also possible to go individually, it’s always safer to be affiliated with official organizations. Once you have joined some of these programs write, post, share or create a small film about your experiences and create a ripple effect of cultural intelligence, information, values that help us bridge the world together. All you need to do is start building the bridge and you’ll be surprised to find so many like-minded people will be eager to join you on your journey and build that bridge together with you. Take the first step. You are the change we need.

Author: Adit Rastogi


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