<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=766060260189124&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">

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

Posted by Jen King on 4/5/24 1:07 PM

Screen Shot 2019-02-07 at 2.42.00 PM-3

Trying to decide between serving a religious mission or spending a semester volunteering abroad? You can do both! And actually, we think that volunteering with ILP first can be the perfect mission prep. Just take it from all of ILP alumni who did just that! 

As young adults, there are so many amazing opportunities right at your fingertips. This is the time of life to take advantage of as many meaningful experiences as you can.

But that doesn't mean it's always easy to choose. Which one is right, right now? Having so many options means it can be hard 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 taking 3 months to volunteer abroad with our program. 

Have questions or want to hear about someone else's ILP experience?
Come chat with an ILP Rep!

While ILP isn't affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, many of our volunteers (and staff) are members of the faith. We've noticed in interviews with potential volunteers that many are trying to decide whether or not they also want to serve a religious mission, and whether it happens 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 complement each other very well. In fact, we think that a semester with ILP is one of the very best ways to prepare for a religious mission. The ILP experience is designed to be a meaningful growth experience that will impact all other areas of your life.

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

Prioritizing Service

Normal day-to-day life is busy and chaotic when you're juggling school and work and family and friends. While serving others is so important to you ... it's usually just another thing to fit into the schedule right? 

The heart of a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ is that you're dedicating your life to service. You're setting aside your plans entirely, for 1.5-2 years, to focus all of your time and attention to helping others.

An ILP volunteer trip can give you a small taste of that. For three months you'll be spending about half a day on volunteering with local kids Monday-Friday, either teaching English or serving in an orphanage. ILP volunteers have also been proactive at finding other service opportunities in their community, whether that's fundraising to build someone a new home or to buy a playground for the school they're teaching at. We've seen beach clean-ups and visits to elderly homes. And in Uganda, you get to help build a spring that supplies clean water to the community.

An ILP trip is 3-4 months of your life where a significant period of that time is set aside for service, but you also have plenty of free time to0. It's a good way to dip your toes in before you fully commit for a couple of years.

This post shares a few ways that volunteers have found ways to serve outside of the typical ILP volunteer hours to do even more good during their trip.

@kaitlintravelgram  quote-1

Meeting Locals + Making Meaningful Connections

The beautiful photos that we post online of palm trees and sandy beaches might make it look like one big long vacation, but those things are only a part of the experience.

As an ILP volunteer you'll be living right in a local neighborhood, not a hotel in a tourist destination. For 3 months you'll be living life like a local — walking down the street to teach your class every afternoon, waving at neighbors as you pass, and buying ice cream from the lady down the corner who has a little shop out of her home. In the Dominican Republic, the kids you teach also live in the neighborhood and they come running down the block when they see you out and about, eager to jump in your arms and get a hug. In Mexico, the families of your students are so kind and often invite you over for dinner. In Vanuatu, you live so close to the beach that you'll often see the neighborhood kids there and it makes for the best hangout spot.

When I was a volunteer in Thailand, we were riding our bikes around exploring at the start of our trip and found a cute little shop that we wanted to stop at and get a smoothie. Right away we met the sweetest lady who opened the shop. We couldn't speak Thai and she couldn't speak English, so we all giggled as we tried to figure out how to make our order. Even though we couldn't understand everything that was said, she pulled us off to the side of her shop (which was also where she lived) and grabbed some fruit straight from her tree to give to us. It was the smallest thing, but we became instant friends that day. For the next 3 months, we kept going back to her shop week after week. It's still one of my favorite memories.

The ILP program is set up for you to get an authentic experience living in another country, and that means you're bound to cross paths with the locals.  It's an opportunity every day to make new connections. 

Screenshot 2024-04-05 at 11.31.53 AM

Attend A Local Ward Or Branch

Going to a church in a foreign country is just an experience you need to have. It's fun to see how the church is a bit different in other cultures, but how it's also really the same too. I laughed the first time I attended my little branch in Thailand because even the carpet was that same blue carpet we had back at my home ward.

It can be a little difficult attending church when you don't speak the same language. When I spent a summer in Mexico with ILP, I was learning Spanish but had such a hard time keeping up with the speakers at church. But ironically, that became another way for me to make connections. Members of the ward who did speak English came up to me to offer help. Missionaries helped translate lessons when they could. And singing hymns helped me improve my Spanish. When I just couldn't follow the talk or the lesson because of the language barrier, I spent a lot of time journaling and focusing on how I felt, rather than understanding the words. 

Just as a head's up, in our India program, the volunteers live several hours away from the nearest LDS ward. You can attend during your semester, but it's not realistic to attend weekly in person there. Each of our other locations offers nearby branches within walking or driving distance.


ILP Adventure

Visit More Temples

You may have the opportunity to visit LDS temples depending on where you're serving with ILP. In Poland you could take a trip over to see a number of temples throughout Europe in places like Sweden, France, and Germany. Peru and Mexico have several temples scattered around the country.

Some ILP volunteers in places like the Dominican Republic and Mexico have even gone on temple trips with their ward, so make sure to pack your recommend if that's something you're hoping to do.



Being Immersed Into Another Culture

Like an LDS mission, on your ILP trip you'll be planting your feet right into a new community. You're living in a local neighborhood, eating the local food, and taking the local bus. You're meeting your neighbors and learning their traditions. You're going to local events and celebrating local holidays.

While you're meeting new friends, you'll hear more about their life and their beliefs. In a lot of the countries where our volunteers serve, other faiths are more prominent and it's a chance to learn more about them. In Latin countries, volunteers like visiting a Catholic mass and in India or Uganda you'll have a chance to visit a mosque. In Thailand, you'll learn about taking your shoes off before entering their temples, and even receive a blessing from a monk. 

It's a chance to learn from someone who has a different background and different beliefs than you. As you find ways to bridge gaps and understand where they're coming from, you'll create deeper friendships and expand your worldview.  All of these experiences will only increase your ability to serve and love others.

334387386_514430157527480_8319777424356330618_n (1)

@Liz__anderson Angkor Wat Cambodia blessing from a monk-1

Experience With Culture Shock

Living in a foreign place has its way of throwing you through a million different emotions. Stepping off the plane is so exciting! There's this buzz in the air, knowing that you're about to take on this new adventure. You might be a little nervous or even scared, but you're also thinking about all the reasons you wanted to take on this new chapter of life.

It's fun to try the new foods. And hear everyone speaking another language. Even walking down the street is fun because everywhere you look, you see something new. Pretty soon though, homesickness can kick in. All of those new foods can become something you dread when you just want your go-to comfort food. When you don't speak the language well (or at all), it can be so draining not being able to just turn to the person next to you and have a full conversation. When everything feels different day in and day out, it can really take a toll.

And that's what culture shock is.

It's hard to explain it. You can't really understand what it feels like until you experience it yourself. Before I went abroad with ILP for the first time, people would talk about culture shock and I'd sort of blow right through it because I thought .... "Okay, yeah. It'll be hard some days. Got it." But I didn't really get it until I was in it, experiencing it day in and day out. The first 3 weeks were really difficult for me as it was my first time out of the country and I was pushing myself way, way out of my comfort zone.

An ILP trip is 3-4 months — it's long enough that you are really thrown into the full experience of living in a new place, but again, it's just a small taste of what you'll experience on a mission. I've gone on a few trips with ILP and each time the culture shock got a bit easier because I knew what to expect. From personal experience, I knew that it was just part of the experience and that it would get better. It's easier for me to handle that rollercoaster of emotions now.

During the ILP training before your trip, we'll talk about culture shock and give you tips and tricks to navigate it.

The good news about culture shock is that it passes. As you become more familiar with the new country, it will start to feel more and more like home. You'll become more confident by the end of the experience.


Develop Independence And Confidence

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.

Practice Planning Lessons + 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. It's a great way to build your confidence as you become comfortable with leading a conversation or even standing in front of 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 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. 

Screen Shot 2020-08-27 at 1.55.16 PM

Daily Habits + Routines

You'll also get practice planning out your day. On an ILP trip, part of your day is scheduled out for you and the rest is free time. You'll settle into your new life and find ways to make it work for you. 

You'll also get a lot of practice balancing your budget. You saved up for your trip so that you could experience all the things — try new treats at the bakery, take that snorkel excursion, and shop for souvenirs at the market. You have about 3-4 months to make your money stretch though, so it's a great hands-on experience figuring out how to budget and make it all work for your needs. 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 volunteer, you have a team of other volunteers and a Head Teacher to help you out (instead of just a single companion).

The Buddy System + Code Of Conduct

All ILP volunteers must agree to follow a Code Of Conduct. It's similar to the Code of Conduct at Brigham Young University — 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 rule in particular that 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. 

If you're an introvert like me, you'll understand that it can be a little difficult getting used to spending all of your time with another person and not having an "escape" or as much privacy. An ILP trip is a good transition into helping you adjust to that but also allows you to have more time on your own than you will as a missionary.

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. It's also a good opportunity to become familiar with following a set of standards for a period of time.

ILP Adventure

Strengthening Your Beliefs

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. Having your own meaningful experiences has its way of rooting your personal beliefs as well.

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. 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. 

_jordansheehy__1705521264_3282472734180273038_855900517 copy


+ 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 even seen a lot of our volunteers receive mission calls back to the same area that they lived in with ILP. We love it 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. 

We reached out on Instagram to learn more about our volunteer's mission call stories and here are a few of their responses:

Receiving your mission call after your ILP trip

Auvi — She was an ILP volunteer in Lithuania and Ukraine before receiving her call to the Baltic Mission, which brought her back to that same part of the world. 

Kennady — "I went to the DR fall of 23 and got called back to the DR Santo Domingo West. Going home!"

Jenna — "I went to Thailand with ILP and got called to Japan!!!"

Receiving your mission call during your ILP trip

Probably the most common situation we see is volunteers getting their call during their trip. The timing of it all seems to be a good fit for so many of our volunteers, which means they get to depart for their mission shortly after returning home from their ILP trip. 

Kennedy — "I'm currently in Poland and got my mission call to Jamaica!"

Kristen — "Currently living in Thailand and got called to Peru two months after I get home!"

Paige — "About to open mine in 2 weeks in Vanuatu!"

Brady — "I am in the Dominican Republic right now and I got called to Brazil"

Jessica — she was volunteering in Thailand, and 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, 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!"

Hannah — She opened her call while she was a volunteer in the DR. Her ILP group cheered as she read out loud her call to Mexico.


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.

  • There are no suggestions because the search field is empty.

Need More Travel Tips + Volunteering Updates?

Popular Posts