May 02nd, 2017

Take it or leave it? Packing for a volunteer assignment

So you’ve landed an international volunteer gig. Congratulations! Now you need to prepare and pack for your time overseas. With the help of AVI’s Mobilisation team, we’ve compiled a list of things to include or leave at home to ensure that you’re suitably equipped, but not weighed down!

Mobilisation infographic_MEDIUM SIZE

Take it

  • Passport and visas
    It may be stating the obvious, but having a passport that is valid for the time of your assignment (and often 6 months following your return) is critical. As are having the correct visas and immigration documentation. Make sure this is organised well before your departure so there’s no unnecessary stress. 

  • Arrival letter
    This letter covers important details like the documentation required on arrival in your host country, who is meeting you at the airport and their contact details, the address of your accommodation and information on local resources, suppliers and networks. It’s likely to be a valuable resource well beyond your arrival too, so keep it accessible!

  • Language book/apps
    Fluency in the local language is not a requirement for volunteer assignments, but exhibiting a readiness to learn language demonstrates your respect to local culture and relationships. It also shows a willingness to be personable and even vulnerable, and can be a great way of getting to know people in the community, from colleagues to café staff!

  • First aid kit
    In addition to pre-departure health check-ups, vaccinations and tests, a first-aid kit can reduce health risks and stop you getting sick while overseas. All first-aid kits should include non-stick dressings, adhesive dressings, disinfectant, disposable gloves, plastic bags and a notepad and pencil. Your doctor or travel medicine specialist can give you more information on how to stay healthy while you are on your assignment.

  • Security plan
    Volunteering internationally is not without risk, however, understanding these risks and having a personalised security plan in place will minimise and mitigate potential incidents. A thorough plan will work to protect all parties – volunteers, host organisations and members of the broader community.

  • Open mind
    Expect the unexpected – this is your new mantra. The only thing we can guarantee is that you’ll be challenged in ways you could never imagine. Having an open mind and freeing yourself from expectations will afford you the flexibility that enables, rather than hinders, adaptability and resourcefulness in situations that could make or break your assignment.  

Leave it

  • Pets
    There are several reasons for leaving your pets behind. In medical, political or emergency evacuations, volunteers have to leave quickly without their pets. The need to care and settle a pet, find suitable accommodation, keep them safe then return them to Australia through lengthy quarantine detracts from your own orientation and could compromise relationships with the community and colleagues. Everyone will be happier if they stay with friends or family back home. 

  • Entire wardrobe
    Research your country and pack according to climate, cultural practice and the requirements of your work. Don’t be tempted to pack clothing for every occasion. Many volunteers purchase affordable clothing made locally or from op shops where you can pick up clothing most suited to fitting in and the environment. 

  • Lots of toiletries
    Again it may seem obvious, but don’t waste precious luggage kilos with items you can buy in country. This rings particularly true if you’re bound for a big city like Jakarta or Cape Town. Unless you require specific products for medical or cosmetic reasons, or your placement is particularly remote, save yourself space by purchasing these upon arrival.

  • Laptop
    On assignment, you will be adopting the use of resources available to your host organisation. For example, if your workplace is computer-less, you are expected to work without a computer. Coming in with your own laptop might make work easier for you, but it won’t benefit your counterpart. Internet speeds, access to power and viruses could also make your laptop redundant. By all means, take one for personal use in your own time, but let your host organisation dictate the technology you’ll use.

  • Large sports gear
    While hobbies are important on assignment, consider how your existing hobbies, especially the equipment to support them, may or may not fit in with your new environment or community. The latest racer could be too quick for under-developed roads. Your expensive fishing gear could make you stand out like a sore thumb in a rural village. Your surfboard, diving gear, guitar or sewing machine could all become redundant upon arrival for various reasons – a costly luggage and insurance affair to avoid.

  • Assumptions
    It would take a lifetime to learn and understand a new country’s history, culture, religion, work practice, hierarchies and social norms. Assumptions can inhibit learning and undermine. To maximise learning, leave assumptions at home. The less you expect, the less disappointments you’ll encounter, and the highs will be even sweeter. 

For more information on how to prepare for your volunteer assignment, check out Four steps to volunteer: Preparing to volunteering.