It's a question we get all of the time, with a couple of different answers (and a bit of advice from past volunteers).
We have loads of volunteers who take a semester off of school to come volunteer all around the world — for some, that means asking about taking online classes during their semester.
Volunteers are only teaching English or helping in an orphanage part-time, meaning you have extra time during your teaching days, plus the time off you get every single weekend. It sounds like plenty of time to fit in an online class, but we have a bit of advice you want to read through before you make that decision.
It's Not Recommended
It's the advice we get most from volunteers who took online classes and either wished they didn't or ended up contacting their school to see if they could postpone that class to take when they returned home, for the following reasons:
In most of our locations, you have some sort of internet access, whether that's at home or at the school you teach at. However, the strength of that signal can vary wildly — sharing that connection with all 20+ people in your group takes a toll, sometimes weather conditions knock out the power for 1-2 days, and sometimes, the signal isn't strong enough to stream a video, let alone your online lecture.
While you can count on some sort of connection to send messages home, check your social media, reply to an email, etc., there are some country locations where we recommend you download music, podcasts, videos, etc. all before you depart for your new country, because the WiFi isn't always reliable enough for a movie night (and that includes your online class).
Where you are volunteering can have a big difference on what the WiFi situation looks like for taking an online class.
Your ILP Experience
Besides the mechanics of the internet connection or the realities of your schedule while on your ILP semester, the overall ILP experience is another huge thing to consider.
You're going on this semester abroad to give back, experience another culture, do some traveling, and soak up life in another country. Your teaching or volunteering schedule is structured so you have free time to do all of those things, whether that's a bike ride down to the beach, walking to the local bakery or smoothie shop to try something new, visiting a nearby church, castle, or cathedral, and more! Those experiences are missed out on if you're needing to listen to a lecture, write a paper, or study for a quiz instead.
This volunteer in Thailand has a bit to add about this: “I took online classes and it wasn’t a huge deal but I did feel like I missed out when other girls would go and explore the town and I had a paper to write!” In general, we hear a lot about volunteers who wouldn't recommend taking an online class because of what they missed out on.
When It Comes To Your Schedule
Another thing to consider is your schedule. Having a class at a certain time of the day would need to coincide with your teaching, prepping, meal, etc., schedule, plus the time difference, which can make it hard to turn in assignments on time. This volunteer in Asia had this to say: "I took some classes while I was there, and I wish I didn't. When everyone was going out, I was staying in trying to get assignments done. Plus, the time difference makes it hard to turn things in on time."
Volunteers who are prepping lessons, teaching, and wanting to do a lot of exploring typically feel they don't have the time for an online class, because that extra time is filled with adventures in their own cities, spending time with their group, time to relax after a long week of teaching, or vacation planning for an upcoming weekend.
Taking a class can be a lot to manage on top of all the adjusting it takes for you to settle into your new home.
But It Can Be Doable
With all that input, some volunteers have made it work, under a few conditions.
Take The Right Kind Of Class
If you do end up taking an online class during your ILP semester, it's suggested you work with your professor so they understand your situation and your schedule. Or (better yet), take a class that's structured as a "move at your own pace" class, where you can submit assignments when you have the time, rather than a harsh deadline that may not work with your vacation schedule.
Talk About WiFi Reliability
There are some locations with better connections than others, so if you're considering an online class during your semester, it's highly recommended you talk with an ILP representative about where would be a good country for you. Certain locations are less impacted by weather (which can take out the power and connection for a few hours or days at a time), have smaller groups where you aren't sharing the router with as many people, have nearby restaurants/cafes with a connection, etc.
In any situation, this advice is one to take to heart: "I would recommend taking an online class to keep you busy but make sure you stay ahead in case the WiFi goes out.”
Another thing to consider is your group's schedule. If the WiFi goes out and you need to visit a nearby cafe to get internet for your class, you'll need someone else in your group to go with you — ILP volunteers explore their city in groups, so you wouldn't be able to just walk over and turn in that assignment by yourself.
Only Take One Or Two Classes
A few volunteers have said it's only a good idea "if you had to graduate on time, or had easy courses". Others only recommended taking one class so you wouldn't miss out too much on what the group was up to.
Remember, your ILP semester is about giving back and experiencing another country — it would be a shame if you ended up with three or six credits, but no experiences like hiking to waterfalls, testing out your favorite candy at the local market, playing games with your group and Local Coordinator, or celebrating that unique festival or holiday in your country.
Be Prepared And Stay Organized
If you do take an online class, double (and triple) check you're packing up everything you need. There would be nothing worse than arriving for your semester only to find out you brought the wrong textbook.
Plan on bringing headphones (noise-canceling could be handy). Chances are high that you will be living with roommates while you're abroad. Headphones that let you block out what's happening around you may help you focus on your homework or lecture.
Block out your entire semester in a calendar, with all of your due dates to help you stay organized. You may want to create a calendar online or take an actual planner to help chart out your schedule, deadlines, and assignment reminders.
Lastly, mentally prepare yourself now to sit out some of the things you might want to do. Since you're going to have extra work to do on top of teaching, you're not going to be able to go out with your ILP group every single time. Prepare now so when the situation comes up, you can easily say no.
Now, which country is perfect for you?
Choose from beachy vacations, crossing off all the European countries off your bucket list, soak up life in bright and colorful towns, and more. We can't wait to see which country you'll call home.