Since the launch of Professionals doing good, a social enterprise whose aim is to connect qualified and skilled volunteers with socially responsible organizations in Cambodia, quite a few professionals from the profit sector contacted us to ask if it was possible for them to volunteer for a short time (1-4 weeks).
Volunteering abroad is different from volunteering in your home country in that even if it is for a short duration, it requires time, commitment, and financial sustainability. This is why it is important that you think hard about the experience you want before hand.
As per my experience with volunteers, these are some distinct advantages and disadvantages of volunteering in Cambodia.
Advantages – what are you going to get?
You can volunteer while taking your annual leave
If you are a full-time employee, it is very likely that the easiest way to volunteer abroad is to do so during your holidays, which are typically two or three weeks and you don’t need to ask for special permissions or unpaid leave from your organization.
You can keep living costs under control
If you volunteer for a few days or weeks, all living costs such as accommodation, food, transportation or visa, will be kept under control. You will be able to do voluntary work at an affordable cost.
You can still give back by making the most of your professional expertise
If you come armed with a very strong and specific professional expertise and background, you will be able to have a meaningful volunteer experience even in a short time. Some examples:
If you are a skilled pediatrician, even a five-day screening clinic would make a difference for local children in need.
Or as an experienced English teacher you could organize a full-immersion ‘train the trainer’ workshops for the benefit of local English teachers
Or as a business developer or marketing/sales professional, you could mentor and coach local managers on how to better raise funds for their organization.
You can experiment with a change of pace or life before making a definitive career or life change
If you are pondering to take a gap year to volunteer abroad, change careers from the profit to the non-profit industry, or relocate to a developing country, all these decisions can be more easily made after short term volunteering. You will be able to get a first-hand look of what is like in the field and take time to make a thoughtful decision when back home.
You can return to the same place every year…and it will feel like you’re coming back home
If you are thinking of doing a short term experience and repeating it in the same country or possibly for the same organization every year, that would be a real win-win situation. You will grow accustomed to the culture, place, staff and coming back every time will feel like coming back home or visiting some old friends.
Disadvantages – what is that you are going to miss?
You will have a very limited immersion
If you volunteer around a month or two, you will have a superficial understanding of the country, the local culture, the way local people think or work. You will just scratch the surface.
You will have little opportunities to leave a legacy
Whereas you may be able to deliver a simple project in short time you will not manage to organize a more complex project with a wider and longer lasting impact. You will be limited by time and restrain yourself with a very specific and sometime simple and narrow task.
You may have little interaction with local people
Khmer is a difficult language to learn and often Cambodian people do not speak English or it is very limited. In a short time, you may be able to get acquainted but not really immersed with the people or to create a deeper human relationship.
It could be a stressful experience
Things in Cambodia work differently and they may take longer than expected. Some unplanned issues may cause delays to your project, things may not go they way you planned or even not happen at all. With no time buffer, you are more exposed to potential project failures.
You may even feel the tension of getting things done in shorter time. In other words, it can be easily turned into an emotionally stressful experience.
Not much time to travel and enjoy yourself
With limited time, you may also have less opportunities to travel, visit places or simply relax and enjoy yourself.
Time will fly…and it will already be time to go back home
This is a given, it happens to everyone who stays a short time in a place. You will feel your experience lasted less than the blink of an eye. You will have the sense that time has flown and you wished you could stay longer. You will be tempted to call home and ask your boss to give you a few more days. It will happen, no matter what. Just come prepared to deal with it.
So, what’s next?
In a nutshell, although a longer volunteering experience is what is usually recommended, we do also suggest not to dismiss a short one, as long as you come prepared. You should be aware though that in most cases the length of your volunteer stay will have a direct impact on how much you can achieve or how much you will emotionally experience.
It is instrumental that you come well prepared ahead of your volunteering experience. Try and learn as much as you can about the country and the culture in advance, already identify the hosting organization, and agree with the scope of work and time plan so that you can make the most of your time.
Understanding this is crucial to set your expectations and be aware of what you are going to get or miss.
If after reading this article you are tempted to try a professional volunteer experience, please take a look at our available projects. We will be happy to guide and match you with the perfect professional volunteering experience.