It’s no secret that helping others makes you happy. It’s been studied and documented that the brain releases feel-good chemicals when you do something good for others. So it’s probably not news to anyone that the act of volunteering has a positive effect far beyond the actual volunteer work performed. It’s pretty well established that volunteering can be beneficial, not just to you and the recipient, but to your family and your community at large!

It wasn’t until I was an accompanying partner on expat assignment that I was truly introduced to volunteering as a concept. I had helped others before and lent my time to good causes, but I hadn’t done it on a regular basis or in an organized fashion. I realized that volunteering was part of the fabric of the community in a different way than what I was used to from home. It was a nice discovery, albeit puzzling in some cases, my children’s schools being one example – they relied heavily on volunteers in order to function well, which seemed a little odd to me.

In the early days of my expat life, volunteering was a great way to meet people and make friends. I didn’t have a plan or a purpose, other than to feel like I belonged to a community of some sort and to make friendly connections so that I wouldn’t feel so lonely. Volunteering became a great way to accomplish both of those objectives.

I have since volunteered in all kinds of capacities, from occasional school functions to regular gigs where I have had a stated responsibility and filled a specific function. While most positions have been fulfilling in one way or another, I can’t say that every volunteer job has been great, or that I have always felt like I made a difference. I do know however that I have learned something new each and every time.

I feel like the learning aspect of volunteering is actually quite important, especially when you are in a foreign culture, trying to figure out how a workplace functions or how to communicate with peers and bosses for example. It’s given me an insight into work ethic, efficiency, how people view hierarchies and communication styles. Those are invaluable pieces of information to have and can serve as great confidence boosters, perhaps especially when you are applying for a job, but in many other everyday situations as well.

In addition to learning about your new culture, there are the obvious advantages of gaining relevant experience and making professional connections. If you have a more deliberate purpose for wanting to volunteer, such as to get some experience before entering the job market, then it’s helpful to be strategic by trying to find a good match for your interests and pursuits.

Whether you are volunteering for fun, to make social connections, to gain job experience, or because of belief in a cause, keep this in mind: kindness is contagious, and volunteering is an act of kindness.

By: Felicia Shermis

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