An International Student Volunteer in Thailand

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Students are some of our most important volunteers. These are young people, excited to learn and to grow, often having their very first experiences overseas. College is a time of transformation, when children become adults. It’s a time when we learn about ourselves: how we learn, who we want to be, and what matters most. When I think back to what I was like before college, I remember feeling scared, like I didn’t have the stuff to be bold and outgoing. I relied heavily on my parents. I wanted desperately to be independent but didn’t know what that meant, or how to achieve it. College helped me to mature, but travel was what really challenged me to think deeply about life choices and to ask myself a very important question: how was I going to save the world?

Volunteering as a student means learning in a completely new way. It means interacting with peers who speak a different language. It means acclimating to a very different way of life. Students often volunteer for a semester or for a year, enough time to get comfortable and to settle in to a new home. It’s enough time to make lasting friendships, and to gain insight into world politics, religions, injustices, and environmentalism. It’s also enough time to become truly independent—to embrace the distance between one’s self and one’s home. With the percentage of college-age volunteers declining, well-run organizations like International Student Volunteers are ever more important.

A Group of ISV Volunteers

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International Student Volunteers (ISV) specializes in the young, wide-eyed, and idealistic volunteer. Their mission and purpose: “To support sustainable development initiatives around the world through life-changing volunteer and responsible adventure travel programs that educate, inspire and result in more active global citizens.” They are a non-profit organization with projects in Australia, Costa Rica, South Africa, Thailand, Dominican Republic, New Zealand, and Eastern Europe. Their programs focus on wildlife conservation, community development, children’s programs, and environmental management.

An ISV Volunteer Feeding one of the Asian elephants living at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand

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ISV is also a model volunteer business. Their website embraces all of the most important elements of volunteering 2.0, from social media links (they use it for fund raising and for online community building) to flashy visuals. They also feature volunteer alumni on their site. One particularly effective feature is their accomplishments sidebar. It rotates through statistics from the previous year’s projects. For example, in 2011 ISV protected 5,980 sea turtle eggs in Costa Rica. They built and maintained 58,209 feet of walking track, trails and fences in New Zealand. Their volunteers spent 2,208 hours caring for animals in South Africa. I love how concretely this quantifies the volunteer experience, and how much it inspires me to want to help. I think any volunteer business can take a lesson from ISV, especially those working with students.

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