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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

LDS Travel programs

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. Here are all of our reasons why!

As young adults, there are so many amazing opportunities to choose between! And sometimes it's hard to decide which experiences you want to have during this phase of life when plans change often and you never know quite what each year will bring. This is definitely true for those who want to volunteer with International Language Programs. And since every member of our staff has spent at least one semester volunteering with ILP, we know how challenging it can sometimes be to make these decisions. 

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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 the best way to prepare for a religious mission. So, if you're one of those volunteers, here are some important things to keep in mind!

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

ILP Volunteers

Figure Out What You Actually Believe

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, or even whether they're religious or not. 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. 

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 Thailand

Develop Independence And Confidence

There are specific types of independence and confidence that come with living in and traveling around a totally new place that can't be gained in any other way.  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 "adulting" 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 Russia

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 3 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 Volunteers

Practice Serving And Teaching

One of the best parts about volunteering with ILP is that you get to spend 20 hours a week teaching the cutest kids or serving in an orphanage (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. 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 Uganda

Cope With Culture Shock

Culture shock is a real thing. And our ILP volunteers get to experience this in each location every semester. Whether you're volunteering in Ukraine or Uganda, 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. Prepare ahead of time by learning how to cope with culture shock somewhere else first! 

ILP Costa Rica

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 Thailand and Montenegro, you may end up traveling an hour each way to get to church. In China, you may be part of a Skype branch that covers members all across the country. Here are the locations we send volunteers to that have easiest access to local congregations! Each location is unique, and the experience you'll have wherever you go will be special and memorable. 

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. Those in Haiti have the Port-au-Prince 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 Volunteers

+Stories From ILP Volunteers Who Have Served Missions

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. 

Auvi was an ILP volunteer in Lithuania before receiving her call to the Baltic Mission, which includes Lithuania. Alex was an ILP volunteer in Lithuania and later got her mission call to Russia. Carly volunteered in Ukraine and then served her mission in Russia as well. Aubrey was an ILP volunteer in Russia and then later got her mission call back to Russia. Same with Miranda, and this is what she said about it:

"I actually was pretty sure that a mission wasn't for me when I jumped on a plane headed to St. Petersburg for my ILP semester with an awesome group of girls so ready to change the lives of a bunch of Russian children. I was excited for the experiences I would have, but was in no way prepared for the way it would change my life. I gained more confidence in myself and my own identity, and I learned to love Russia and its people to a depth I never thought possible.

ILP helped me see that working hard brings huge rewards, and it was wonderful to know that I was a part of something that was so much bigger than any of us. I became addicted to service and was amazed at the noticeable influence I had on those I came in contact with. I was, as Director Steve puts it, "unplugged from the world just enough to focus on being (myself) and becoming better." From significant experiences I had during that semester, I came home knowing that a mission was my plan, and that I was prepared to serve. When I got my call to Vladivostok, Russia, my first thought was, 'Good. I finally get to go back home."

ILP Volunteers

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!"

Anna, another volunteer in Thailand, got her mission call to serve in Cambodia! We're so excited for everyone who decides to volunteer with us, and then gets to serve in that same part of the world again! 

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:

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Topics: LDS


*Because of the worldwide pandemic, travel options are limited and frequently changing. You'll need to do additional research as resources + activities shared in this post may or may not be available at the time of your trip.

ILP volunteers — work closely with your Program Manager who can help you understand current country entrance requirements which will determine what countries you can visit during your semester. 



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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