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Why I Took A Break From School To Volunteer

Posted by Jen King on 4/9/17 8:27 AM


...And why I'm glad I did it.

Halfway through my college experience something was pulling me to go abroad. I don't know where this idea came from. My family didn't really travel so I had zero experience with it. I just saw an ad for volunteering building homes in Africa and I could not get it out of my head. I needed a shift in my life and suddenly living abroad was something I knew I was supposed to do. 

I looked into different volunteer opportunities for students. I first started with the Peace Corps because that was the only program I knew about. But...it was at least 2 years...living alone in a foreign country...and you had to have some kind of skill.  Yup, that didn't really describe the experience I wanted. I needed a little break from school, it had to be affordable (because remember I'm in school), and I didn't want to be alone. Hello ILP! I found International Language Programs and it was exactly what I was looking for.

And before I knew it, I was signed up to teach kids English in Mexico!

Are you ready for a semester abroad experience?
 Apply to volunteer with ILP like I did!

It turned out to be absolutely life-changing (in the best kind of way). Here's why I don't regret putting off school for a bit in order to get this experience.

It Helped Me Decide On A Major

I was one of those undecided college people for the longest time (how are you supposed to decide what you want to do for the rest of your life at 19 anyways?). I was taking a lot of art classes because I just loved it and wanted to for the fun of it, but I had a ton of anxiety not knowing what direction I should go ... I considered everything from nursing to pharmacy to teaching to photography. So when I announced I was going to volunteer to teach English, my dad goes, "So you're going to get a teaching degree then?"

Well...no. Or maybe? I still didn't know. The cool thing about ILP is that you gain a ton from the overall experience, but not everyone does it to further a teaching degree.

Fast forward to the end of my semester. I didn't end up changing my major to teaching. Actually I thought about it for a long time because I ended up LOVING teaching my cute Mexican kids (which is something this intovert never would have expected).

But honestly, after the experience was over I was just so...happy. Something about that happiness made excited about the future. I was excited to go back to school and I was excited to continue with art because when I ignored the stress that I felt over this huge life decision, going with my gut seemed like the best choice. In case you're wondering, I got an art degree and that led to a job with graphic design and marketing. I'm really happy with that decison I made to trust my gut and go volunteering with ILP because that led to many more times where trusting my gut served me well.


I Stood Out On All My Job Applications 

Sometimes people get nervous about putting school off for a semester because then you graduate a semester or two later right? I was aware of that pressure to be done with school as soon as I could, but now that I'm graduated it seems pretty silly to me now.  

During your college years,  GAIN AS MUCH EXPERIENCE AS YOU CAN.

Seriously. It pays off in a million ways and one of those ways that I reaped the benefits was when I started applying for jobs. So many times interviewers just wanted to talk about Mexico (and also China because guess what, I volunteered with ILP again right after I graduated!). They didn't really care about my grades or that job I worked at at the sandwich place since I was 16.

Employers were so curious about my volunteering experience.  I even did a group interview once (those are incredibly cruel because they're so intimidating!). But I passed with flying colors and they offered me the job out of everyone. Want to know why? I'm pretty sure it's because I told an awesome story about when I had to problem solve something while I was living in China as the leader of a group of other volunteers. I made them laugh and I was memorable.  An international experience gave me that. 

So yeah, not only was the experience life-changing for me personally, but it also helped me have options for my career. 

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I Gained A Ton Of Confidence

To me, I think this was the greatest thing I got out of volunteering. Previously I was a pretty timid introvert and a total pushover. Despite coming from an incredibly loving family I didn't really have a ton of direction for what I wanted to do with my life. I was very nervous about teaching kids because the thought of standing in front of a class of students terrified me (lucky for me ILP teaching style wasn't like that at all - I got to be more 1 on 1 with a small group of kids). 

But...living in another country threw me so far outside of my comfort zone that I had no option but to grow  Every day, little by little, I started to change. I overcame hard things. I made new friends. I did things I never really thought I would. I started seeing the person I could be/wanted to be.  Sorry this is getting cheesy but it's so true!

Coming home I was not the same person as I was when and I left (and that was a good thing). Travel has really changed my life. 

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If you're being pulled towards volunteering, like I was, absolutely do it.

If you're considering it, don't let something like school keep you from going. I can't even tell you all the things you'll get from it - cause we'd probably be talking for hours if I tried. It's worth it. Trust me. 

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Topics: All About ILP + Volunteering, Tips For Your Twenties


We are ILP, a Utah based non-profit org that has service abroad opportunities for college-age volunteers. We're sharing all our tips for making the most of your time traveling and living abroad.

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