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Students' life

‘I can help!’ or how to volunteer in Europe

The importance of a well written CV cannot be underestimated. As a recent graduate you will already have your education section covered. To gain valuable work experience and to impress your future employers you may want to consider volunteering at one of many charities.

If this is what you want to do then where do you begin? How do you volunteer in Europe? Alexandra Baranova, the GoStudy blog writer, covers the most frequently asked questions students usually have.

Člověk v tísni archive image

Člověk v tísni archive image

Step 1

If you want to volunteer in Europe, first of all you need to decide what cause you want to support.

Here are some examples of charitable organisations in the Czech Republic

  • Human rights. This category covers many things, from helping refugees, who escaped from war zones, to protecting the rights of sexual minorities or preserving rare civilizations. Amnesty International, Člověk v tísni, UNICEF, ADRA, HESTIA deal with these and other related matters.
  • Environment. This category has the most choice in terms of the cause you want to support: forest protection, fight against killing animals for expensive furs, protection of fragile ecosystems during mining operations, fight against the climate change, etc. Greenpeace, Hnutí Duha, Děti Země are experts in these fields.
  • Homeless animals. The best way is to join an animal shelter. Charities like Czech Dočasky DeDe are always looking for volunteers.
  • Care homes or palliative care centres. Senior people need care and attention from others. One-hour long conversation can be life changing and help a patient or an elderly care home resident.
  • Children’s homes. Young children, who are raised without their parents’ support, are also in need of care and attention from social interactions.

Step 2

To be able to volunteer in Europe and work for one of the charities, make sure you are up for a challenge and have the right personal and professional qualities:

  • Communication skills. You will need them when handing out leaflets on the street or at open day events for sharing news about charity’s activities.
  • Tenacity and ability to work under pressure. When working for a charity, you may need to communicate with official organisations in order to get access to funding or get a ‘green light’ for a project, etc.
  • Courage. No matter what you are fighting for, protests and strikes are an inevitable part of many NGO’s, which may result in unexpected and sometimes unpleasant outcomes.
  • You should be behind the cause you support. You ought to really care about dolphins or deer if you are a dedicated habitat protection campaigner. If you generally don’t have interest in the cause then it will show in your lack of enthusiasm.
  • Be prepared 24/7. Charitable or humanitarian organisations are usually not supported by the government and this is why they hire volunteers to help with their daily operation.
  • Foreign language skills. Knowledge of English is essential, and if you can speak some other foreign languages, it will definitely work to your advantage. This is especially true when you work for human rights charities.
  • A positive attitude. Hours of unpaid work that doesn’t guarantee success can be demotivating. If you are feeling down, remind yourself why you have taken up the position in the first place, and tell yourself that many small steps eventually lead to a bigger outcome.
Dočasky DeDe’s archive image

Dočasky DeDe’s archive image

Step 3

Now it’s time to look at the terms of employment. How do you meet the conditions to volunteer in Europe?

Apart from having a good CV and a cover letter, you will be invited to an interview with the company (in person or online) and tell your potential employer what you can do for the company. You must do your homework before the interview, be in control, but avoid painting a rosy picture. The humanitarian aid sector requires your genuine interest to help. Volunteers often gain hands-on experience once hired.

Now, you are employed, hurray! There are organisational aspects you have to deal with. As a general rule, the organisation pays for the food and accommodation for their volunteers, but travel and visa expenses are to be paid by the volunteers. So it should come as no surprise.

The situation for students from the European universities is a bit less complicated as they can get a long-stay permit for any EU country and travel across Europe visa free. You can buy tickets well in advance. You may find cheap train, bus and airplane tickets at FlixBus, Student Agency, Rome2rio, Ryanair, Letuška.cz, etc.

Another budget-friendly option is to gain experience in volunteering in the country of your study. You may want to volunteer in the Czech Republic and get a prestigious degree from Charles University. In this case, you can easily combine the two things.

Step 4

You may think ‘What can I get for this?’

  • This is a great chance to see the world in a different way, expand horizons, both personally and professionally.
  • You are going to network; you never know what contact can be useful one day.
  • You will practice your English, gain work experience and get to meet people from different backgrounds and cultures.
  • Your short-time job experience might one day become your career, you just never know.

Volunteering in the Czech Republic

Here is Yana’s story. She is a Social Sciences graduate at Charles University:

When I was in my second year, I went to Portugal for six months. I taught English to school kids, and on weekends I learned to surf. Apart from that I significantly improved my English, I realised that, I love teaching and I just fell in love with surfing! It took me half a year to become a confident surfer. After I defended my final paper, I contacted the same surfing school, went back to Lisbon and resumed my classes. Currently, I live in Portugal and work as a surf instructor. What about my diploma, you may ask? I use the knowledge I have gained from the university; I manage social media pages remotely for a couple of companies, which adds to my income.’

Sergey, a student at the Higher School of Economics, Prague. He has also managed to find his true calling through volunteering:

‘I always wanted a dog, but my parents always said no. And then I found myself living in the Czech Republic. I was free at last! I soon realised that keeping my own puppy was demanding, so one day I agreed to temporarily foster a homeless dog. The experience was very interesting. I was responsible for the dog. I trained the dog to live with people. The shelter soon found home for the dog, after that I took care of some other pets. Currently, I work with several shelters and take care of rescue dogs whenever possible. By the way, I am seriously considering a second degree, this time, in veterinary’.

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Alina Baeva 22 December 2020