International Volunteerism can be a very noble thing to do especially if you are doing it for the right reasons. The whole point behind international volunteerism is to help others, but unfortunately sometimes people get involved for other reasons such as to travel, to pass a class, to boost a resume, etc. Here are three guidelines that can help you make sure that your participation in international volunteerism is more helpful than harmful.

Be ethical in your choices

One of the first things you can do is study the organization you plan to get involved with. Inquire about how they plan to sustain your efforts long-term. Ask how they involve locals and community members as part of their volunteer efforts. Going off of that, find out how involved these communities are in terms of deciding what the volunteers should be helping with. Also find out how the organization spends your fees and allocates their resources. Do they hire locals for staff positions? How much do they spend on administration versus volunteer programs?

Be realistic

Don’t get involved in international volunteerism if you are expecting to change the world in one day. Change takes time, so be prepared to not see much of an impact from your efforts (unless you stay for years). Instead, you should focus on seeing your contribution as being part of long continuum of volunteers’ efforts and contributions. Even though you should be very aware of the bigger goal of the organization, don’t underestimate the power of small acts of kindness – a smile and a hug can go a long way. The key is to balance between the big picture and the immediate picture. And most importantly, always keep in mind that while you are playing an important role in a community, the future of those efforts are the community’s, not yours. The best you can do is assist them in improving whatever they want to improve.

Be informed

Before traveling to any overseas community, make sure you take the time to learn about the specific place you will be visiting. Understanding a community in terms of their history and how they go to where they are now, will allow you to understand their needs and better help them. Studying their political and social contexts will also help you remain realistic of how far your efforts will be able to go. Being informed is great because it will allow you to remain open-minded, which is key to international volunteerism.