A lot of volunteer organizations take you through an orientation to discuss the important cultural norms about where you are going and generally prepare you for your stay. This is an ideal time to ask questions about the local community you are going to. You should read as much as possible before you leave about local customs, belief and language or talk to others who have already been there.
It can be helpful to educate your friends and family about where you are going and what you will be doing. They not only act as advocates for you but will also be somewhat familiar with your circumstances. Having this strong support system will help you get through the challenges of living in an unfamiliar environment.
If you are preparing to go and teach English, sports or any other skills it would be best to have either some experience or ideas up your sleeve before you go. Some volunteer organizations will give you teaching guides packed with guidelines, ideas, teaching games and advice. If they don’t you should be able to find similar books online or at your local library.
Prepare Yourself Mentally
The culture or location you will be visiting will be completely different from yours. If you can prepare yourself for this it will make your transition smoother. Things to reconcile with are the crowds you might face, the uncomfortable travel trips, food you cannot recognize and people with different concepts about time and personal space.
Gear Requirements/Packing Lists
This will largely depend on where you are going e.g. tropical or polar conditions. The volunteer organization will provide a list of recommended things to pack. Remember you can buy most items even in developing countries and you should always pack light. Don’t bring clothes or items of great sentimental or material value but rather things you might be willing to leave behind or give to a needy person.
You may also have to wear the same thing often throughout your trip, so they should be clothes you can wash by hand and ones you don’t mind kids grabbing in orphanages at or getting dirty at in archaeological digs.
People in other cultures will be curious about the life in your country. Bring along photographs of your family and house, recipes and other mementos. A journal or notebook is a good way to reflect upon your experiences. Don’t forget your sunscreen and mosquito netting if you’re going tropical.
If you require specialized equipment for your placement you might need to bring it with you unless you can confirm it is available locally. Mostly you will need to be your own primary research. That means bring teaching aids if you plan to be working with kids like photos, postcards, magazines or coins. If you are coaching sports you may need additional items like soccer balls and pumps.