Help near Barcelona with our restaurant   cafe.   workaway.info

Volunteering abroad: New tourist or passers by?

Changing travellers and work

Whether be it from loving to travel. doing things for others, having a cheap alternative to travel and stay in another country, having something to do for the summer or fleeing from everyday life and home… All people working as volunteers abroad, have their own reasons for doing so.

Usually, it is a combination of backpacking, wanting to do something for others and sheer opportunism. A combination of both being there for others, and by doing so, implying an reasonable reciprical action. This works usually through social travel and social accommodation. Much like Couchsurfing and houseswapping, the need for symmetrical swapping or exchange, does not apply when bound by certain common qualities. Contact through a community, trust, mutual interests and being endorsed by others, are commonly seen as deciding factors for housing someone, either on their sofa or as guest with more freedom in movement and stay.

Volunteers, working abroad, are usually not familiar with the term volunteer-tourism and don’t like to be called `tourist’, which indicates- similar to backpackers -volunteering abroad is still seen as (partially) idealogical in nature. Baring in mind ofcourse, the idealogical traits can be interpreted as being “social currency”  for travel and staying abroad.

Motives

On the subject of motives for volunteering abroad, there are numerous studies and theories to be addressed. In a study by Tomazos & Butler (The Volunteer Tourist as ‘Hero’; 2010), participants explained their engagement in a programme in different ways:

  • a wish to get away from the everyday routine at the permanent place of residence,
  • a fondness for travel.
  • a wish to repay one’s life of privilege and the need to give help to those who are poor and whose poverty is no fault of their own.
  • growing distrust of all kinds of charity organisations which bring help to victims and collect funds in developed countries.

As the backpacking community changes, so do the parties that provide in voluntary work, that work on a voluntary basis and exceedingly so: the go-between party. Often providing extra services that require payment and registration and work along reciprocal routes that have less bearing on peoples willingness to exchange things without currency, in a symmetric way. When such parties require payment, they can no longer rely on the willingness of travellers, to be as open as they were before. They become “customers” instead of traveller or volunteer, providing and demanding different qualities altogether. People volunteering abroad, increasingly use more bi-directional reciprocity to get where they want to be, meaning that an exchange is made based upon more or less the same value: work for accommodation and food and drink. One example I can mention is the new startup Amons.

amons.co

The way people make use of working abroad as volunteer is highly bound by cultural differences in leisure-experience, the experience of time, global routines and seasonality. American students for instance, will have a summer break for a specific duration. Having a gap-year has more flexible time boundaries and often involve a combination of paid and voluntary work.

You walk the voluntary walk of a pilgrim

Volunteering is specifically popular in Europe. This has a very interesting bit of background. Doing volunteering is related to pilgrimage and religious travel. Although obviously many other factors are important, volunteer-tourism is often been associated with being interested in other cultures; wanting to get to know them better. The length of stay is quite long. Many tourism volunteer projects are also based on the conservation or restauration of heritage. The cultural routes have a strong potential link to volunteer tourism through heritage and through the desire to have intensive experiences with local people. (Greg Richards, 2011)

Poland

In Poland there is a high rise in movement-possibilities, due to emergent new ways of very cheap travel like Polskibus, covering long distances for a very low price. Polish people themselves are as yet less familiar with the concept of Couchsurfing and social travel and are quite pragmatic in their use of transportation and covering large distances, putting an emphasis on the act of arriving, rather than the travel itself. In the past 3 years, the use of and familiarity with social travel and accommodation has increased greatly in Poland.

This brings me to the ideological aspect of social travel within Poland. As much of voluntary work in Poland is regulated through Non Governmental Organisations with quite good and large networks, the possibilities for cultural exchange are huge and rhich in meaning. They provide excellent opportunities for artists applying for grants for cultural exchange programmes and for volunteers abroad, to engage in more spatial experiences, not particular to one single space or place of work. A very good example on a cultural low-threshhold scale, is the work of Kinderzirkus Wanjanini in Germany, with affiliated organisations.

Scholarly travel

Researchers also find an increase in scholarship schemes, to provide Polish young people to travel, work, stay and study. The two largest programs now, are Erasmus and CEEPUS, covering most of Europe. (Joanna Kowalczyk-Anioł)

In commercial tourism, research is often directed towards conversion, to understand motivation just enough to earn money.

In my personal opinion, the tourist geography of both backpacker and volunteer-tourist, should be seen as an organic entity, bound by structures that rise above and flee from the commodified nature of spatial and experiential structure of the everyday world. Don’t forget, travel is an act of cultural production, of meaning making and placemaking along a network of incorporated symbolic boundaries.

Angloville banner

Zach
Volunteer at Angloville (Poland)

Circus-game-in-Malaysia

Polskibus routes
Polskibus routes

Music-travel and opportunities

Working abroad as an artist or busker? There is an increasingly larger amount of academic funding you can apply for, for working and work-exchange on an academic level.

There are numerous reasons why art in general and street theatre and busking, are important in everyday life. Music travels through time and space through a number of modalities, most of which are nowadays considered to have “un-natural” rhythms, in the sense that we are so much attuned and formed by the commercialisation of both music and rhythm that it is hard to concentrate on, and be influenced by sounds that matter for wayfinding, for instance.

Ofcourse, music transforms particular places into tourist hotspots. If you’ve been to Rynek square in Krakow, you know how throughout the day, the square is filled with music. The place is filled with sound and the sound of a place, enters the consciousness of the tourist and becomes part of the experience of the place.

Some links

Interested in more background? A few (of many) readings:

  • Tourist product in experience economy (Institute of Urban and Tourism Geography andrzej.stasiak)
  • The role of experience in consumer behaviour in the tourism market: concept of experience economy and experiential marketing; (Agnieszka Niezgoda)
  • Motivations and Behaviour of Independent Travellers Worldwide (Greg Richards and Julie Wilson)
  • The Volunteer Tourist as ‘Hero (Tomazos & Butler; 2010)

Interested in putting everything into practise and see welldevised concepts turn into proper, unforgettable experiences? Contact me! 

Renk van Oyen

Contact me