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How Volunteering Abroad With ILP Can Be The Best Mission Prep!

Posted by Abbey Krzymowski on 3/3/20 1:30 PM


Are you trying to decide between serving a religious mission or spending a semester volunteering abroad? You can do both! And we actually think that volunteering with ILP first can be the perfect mission prep. Just hear from ILP alumni who did just that! 

As young adults, there are so many amazing opportunities to choose between, but that doesn't mean it's easy to choose which experiences you want to have during this phase of life. You have a lot of options, so it can be hard to figure out how to fit everything in. Plans can often change and you'll want to be sure you're making the right choice —  which is why we hear a lot about ILP applicants who are trying to decide between a religious mission and a chance to volunteer abroad with our program. 

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While ILP isn't affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, many of our volunteers (and staff) are members. We've noticed in interviews with potential volunteers that many of them are trying to decide whether or not they also want to serve a religious mission, either before or after their semester with ILP.

While serving a mission and volunteering with ILP are very different experiences, and neither can really replace the other, they do compliment each other very well. In fact, we think that a semester with ILP is one of the very best way to prepare for a religious mission. It can also be a smooth way to transition back to regular life after spending 1-2 years serving. 

So, if you're one of those volunteers caught between that decision, here are some important things to keep in mind!

Ways That Volunteering Abroad With ILP Can Be The Best Mission Prep

ILP Volunteers

Practice Serving And Teaching

One of the best parts about volunteering with ILP is that you get to spend about a half a day teaching the cutest kids or serving in the Orphanage Program (depending on where you end up going). Although this is significantly less time than missionaries spend teaching and serving every week, it is still a chance to experience the fulfillment and benefits of serving others, even when it's quite challenging.

If your semester involves teaching, then you'll get the chance to plan your own lessons and teach them to a small group. You will also regularly lead activities that could later be used as great object lessons for gospel topics and give you practice leading discussions and lesson planning. You'll also get practice planning out your day and balancing your budget. It's a great way to test out these skills before you go out as a missionary and do this full time. Plus, as an ILP volunteers, you have a team of other volunteers and a Head Teacher to help you out (instead of just a single companion). You'll get a lot of teaching and lesson planning experience during your ILP semester to hopefully give you the confidence to teach full time as a missionary after your trip. 

Due to local laws and visa restrictions, you're not allowed to share your testimony with any locals during your semester with ILP, but why not get some practice sharing your testimony on social media

ILP Adventure

Figure Out A Few Things 

This is probably the most important one on our list, and it seems to be a part of every volunteer's experience whether they're considering serving a mission or not — this time of your life is full of a lot of questions and a lot of options. Taking a chance to step away from your regular routine is always a growing experience to help you figure out what comes next. There's just something about living with strangers in a totally unfamiliar place, surrounded by people with different traditions and beliefs, that gives each person a chance to recreate themselves and decide who they want to be and what they believe. It's a chance to reevaluate priorities and connect with your deepest self, away from the chaos of everyday living. 

When it comes to religion, a lot of ILP volunteers realize what they truly believe when they step outside of their comfort zone of going to church and meetings with friends and family members to see what living their religion is like without that familiar support system.

A lot of new missionaries experience something similar at the beginning of their mission, and it can be challenging to teach others if they aren't quite sure what they believe yet themselves.  If you've already had the opportunity to decide what you believe and how you want to live then it will be easier to share that with others. 

ILP Adventure

Develop Independence And Confidence (With A Little Help)

Independence and confidence comes with living in and traveling around a totally new place — these are lessons that are learned quickly on an ILP semester (and are handy to have before you embark on a religious mission).

For many of our volunteers, this is their first time living in a foreign country, and even their first time living farther than a few hours away from their families. It's their first time figuring out public transportation and their first time heavily interacting with another culture. It's their first time planning vacations across countries, and sometimes even their first time going on international flights. There is a lot of social and personal confidence that comes from such a rush of these learning experiences. 

One benefit of volunteering with ILP is that while you are adjusting to so many new things, you can talk to your family and friends back home whenever you want to. As a missionary, this is restricted to once a week on preparation day. Talking through these experiences with your family, and getting regular assurance and support from them is a great way to transition to full independence. You're out of your comfort zone, committing to live in an unfamiliar place for a period of time, but you still have the option to talk to your family and friends as much as you want to.

ILP Mexico

The Buddy System And Code Of Conduct

All ILP volunteers must agree to follow a Code Of Conduct. It includes things like abstaining from alcohol and tobacco, maintaining a neat appearance in class, and not using vulgar or profane language. You can read the entire list here!  

One of the most important rules we ask volunteers to follow is that they avoid traveling alone. When going on vacation they must have at least three volunteers in the group, and when traveling around their home city, they should be in groups of at least two whenever possible. This is not only a safety precaution, but also helps volunteers to develop lasting relationships with those in their group. Plus, as many volunteers have shared, it helps them learn how to work with and befriend a variety of personalities. 

As a missionary, you'll always have a companion that you are with literally 24/7. Most likely this will be someone you don't know well to begin with, but then have to learn to get along with really quickly. If you've already mastered how to become fast friends with strangers, and live with others who may have different habits than you do, this adjustment will be much easier. 

ILP Adventure

Cope With Culture Shock

Culture shock is a real thing. And our ILP volunteers get to experience this in each location every semester. No matter where you're volunteering, there will be so many things to adjust to. Local traditions and customs, food, living conditions, weather, etc. But good news! Once you've done it, the next time is always a little easier because you'll have a better idea of what differences to expect and how to prepare yourself mentally and physically. 

In a training meeting before you leave for your ILP semester, our directors will explain the different phases of culture shock, what to expect, and how to cope. It's a helpful reminder to know that the process (which often includes some feelings of anxiety and depression) isn't unique to just you, and that there are things you can do to help cope. Here's a list of things we've done to help our bodies stay healthy while they're adjusting to so many new things

Just a heads you, while most potential missionaries assume they'll only feel culture shock if they end up serving internationally, it is actually very common to experience all of the same symptoms if you're serving stateside as well. A lot of culture shock happens just because you're living away from home — why not try that out for 3-4 months while volunteering abroad before going all in on a 18-24 month experience? 

ILP Adventure

Experience Church In Another Culture

You can be involved with church meetings no matter where you volunteer with ILP! And it's really fascinating to see how the church operates in different countries all over the world. Here are some tips for finding a congregation near you. You'll notice a lot of similarities and a lot of differences, but the doctrine and curriculum are always the same. 

You'll also find that attending church services may not be as convenient as you're used to, but many volunteers say that their testimonies were strengthened as they put in the extra effort required to worship with others. In some countries, you may end up traveling an hour each way to get to church.  In other locations, it's a 20-minute taxi ride or walk up a hill in the humid weather. Each location is unique, and the experience you'll have wherever you go will be special and memorable. You may be attending services in another language or may have missionaries to translate. 

Many of our volunteers have also chosen to visit the temple(s) near them during their semester abroad! Our volunteers in the Dominican Republic have the Santo Domingo Temple. Volunteers in Mexico have several temples, including one in Guadalajara. Those in Costa Rica can visit the temple in San Jose. And volunteers in Europe have a whole bunch, so why not temple hop

ILP Adventure

+ Stories From A Few ILP Volunteers 

We've had so many volunteers who either got their mission call during their semester, or decided to serve a mission while they were abroad with us. We've also seen a lot of these volunteers receive mission calls back to the same area that they lived in with ILP! We love when that happens! Especially because they don't even get to list any preference on their mission application for where they are hoping to go. 

Like Auvi! She was an ILP volunteer in Europe before receiving her call to the Baltic Mission, which brought her back to that same part of the world. 

Then we have had volunteers who received their mission assignments while they are still volunteering with ILP. Jessica, who was volunteering in Thailand, got to Skype with her family when her mission call arrived. Guess where she was assigned to? Bangkok, Thailand. Here's what she had to say about her impression of Thailand after her first month of living abroad:

"After being here for about a month, my biggest impression of Thailand is how friendly and welcoming the people are. When biking through town, the people may stare at the foreigners and look slightly intimidating, but as soon as I smile and wave they break out in the biggest smiles. I am grateful every day for the kindness shown by these complete strangers.

It was a very strange experience to read my call and see that I would be coming back to Thailand. I was completely in shock! It's something that people have joked about ever since I set the plan to teach in Thailand and then serve a mission. But it had only ever been jokingly, so to see that I had been called to serve in Thailand was very surreal. It has changed my experience, knowing that I will be coming back. I was definitely surprised, but it was a testament to me that Heavenly Father understands my strengths and weaknesses, and that he really needs me to serve the people of Thailand!"

Each semester, it seems like there are more and more ILP volunteers who are preparing for their mission with an ILP semester (and may even get their call while they are still abroad)!. 

+ Going Abroad After Your Mission 

We've also had several volunteers come volunteer with us right after their religious mission, for a lot of the same reasons why people go abroad before deciding to serve. Right after you come home, it can seem like a big adjustment to jump right into life — why don't you come spend a semester still serving and giving back with a service-oriented experience? Plus, you'll also have the perks of going on vacations and doing activities that aren't typically part of your mission experience. Going on an ILP semester is a good way to slowly adjust back from a mission before diving right back into the responsibilities of school, work, and other obligations. 

Plus, we have a whole team at our office who are here to help you make those arrangements while you're still serving. We've had experience working with current missionaries (and their parents) to make sure the application is filled out, paperwork and other things and turned in, and you'll be prepped to go on the next available semester to your dream country right after you come home from your mission. We're here to help! 

ILP Volunteer

Ready to have your own life-changing experiences while volunteering abroad?

Whether or not you've finished figuring out your life plan, we'd love to help you out with the decision process. The first step is to submit a quick application online for the semester you think will work best (you can change it later), and then we'll be in touch to answer questions and help you all along the way! Click the button below to get started:

Start My Application!


Topics: LDS

Hey friends!

We are ILP, a Utah-based non-profit org that has service abroad opportunities for college-age volunteers. We love travel so we're sharing all our tips for making the most of your time living abroad + seeing the world, and how to do it all on the tiniest budget.

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