I’ve written a lot about the benefits of volunteering for families: parents see their children working hard, children are inspired to make a difference, and grandparents have a chance to experience their family in a new way, as a working whole. Volunteering trips overseas transform a family into a team. This same principle applies to unrelated groups of volunteers. Any group can reap the rewards of working together for the greater good. It brings out the best in everyone—the diligent worker, the gregarious conversationalist, the foreign language enthusiast, the goof ball—no skill set goes to waste when you’re exploring a new place and meeting new people.
Ever since I first started learning about the role of the Internet in international volunteer culture, I’ve been waiting to find an organization that makes the most of online communities. The potential of the Internet for bringing people together is boundless, and yet, many organizations use it simplistically—to advertise their service and nothing else. There is nothing wrong with this—many organizations focus their energies elsewhere, on projects in-country—but I’ve been surprised by the lack of a full embrace. I guess what I’ve been looking for is focus: focus on Internet communications to bridge the gaps between people, to unite us all on a neutral playing field. Of course, the Internet isn’t neutral—it’s only accessible to people with a baseline of privilege—but it’s a start.
When I was in college, I didn’t appreciate the harsh reality of a 9-5 job. When you’re young you see the world as full of possibility, and it is. But as you get older, take a job and start a family, those possibilities narrow. Employers expect a lot. American workers have the least paid vacation time of all wealthy industrial nations. For most of us, unless we quit our jobs, leaving our lives for a year is not a possibility. But for college-age adults, taking a year off before or during college is a much more realistic option.