International Volunteering

International Volunteering

International Volunteering

What you will find in this section - International Volunteering


What is International Volunteering?

ALIVE is here to offer information and support to University of Galway students considering volunteering internationally. Information offered online provides a starting point and volunteers should visit or email us to learn more about International Volunteering.

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in volunteering abroad, often in "Developing" countries. The concept of development is complex and resources below can help you unpack this term.

International Volunteering can be:

  • Short term (2 weeks - 3 months)
  • Medium term (3-6 months)
  • Long term (1 - 2 years)

Sending organisations may be:

  • Non-Profit : Charities, NGOs, Govt. Organisations or Programmes
  • For Profit : Travel Companies, Adventure Companies


Step 1: Think carefully about who to travel with - we can help you decide!

Visit ALIVE in the HUB, Áras Na Mac Léinn for Advice, Support and Tips, if You are interested or thinking about Volunteering Overseas.

Which organisation should I travel with?

We are a :


We support good practice in International Volunteering and are committed to the Vision of International Volunteers working in solidarity for a Just, Equitable and Sustainable World.

42 Irish Organisations are implementing Comhlámh’s Code of Good Practice for Volunteer Sending Agencies, ensuring that International Volunteering has a positive impact on the Volunteers and Host community. We only allow International Volunteering opportunities on our platform who are Code signatories. 

Step 2: Pick up our Free Resource

ALIVE has developed the Guide to International Volunteering for University of Galway students considering Volunteering Internationally.

Jam packed with personal stories, questions to ask to sending organisations and yourself - This guide is not only the first stop in exploring International Volunteering, but also designed to support you as you travel abroad and return!


University of Galway does not suggest you volunteer with one particular organisation or another and we do not endorse or sanction any international organisations. We offer support and information so you can decide whether you want to volunteer and if so, which organisation with which you would like to volunteer. Reasonable precautions have been taken to ensure information in the International Volunteering publication is accurate. However it is not intended to be legally comprehensive; It is designed to provide guidance in good faith without accepting liability.

Step 3: How do I know if volunteering abroad is right for me?

If you are open to Experience new things, Learning from other cultures, and Embracing customs, then such an experience will benefit you as an individual.

Only you can know for sure if such an experience is appropriate for you. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What is my motivation for wanting to Volunteer abroad?
  • What do I hope to learn?
  • How do I expect to contribute to the community I will be volunteering with?

Comhlámh's Volunteer Charter can help to guide you through the decision making process.

Step 4: Get the knowledge! How does it work?

You as a Volunteer contact a Comhlamh approved Sending Organisation that has links around the world with Host Volunteering Projects. In order to ensure positive volunteering experiences of International Volunteers and Host communities,Volunteers are Encouraged to be well informed and prepared in advance to going overseas.

The Sending Organisations: These are agencies, organisations or commercial companies that arrange volunteer placements in developing countries. You apply to the sending organisation to volunteer and they support you with training. There are a list of questions you should ask Sending Organisations below and you can check if an organisation has signed the "Code of Good Practice for Volunteer Sending Organisations" which sets out the responsibilities of organisations. The code requires agencies to ensure that volunteers are fully informed about their assignment, cultural, health and safety issues and aware of their responsibilities. Anyone interested in volunteering overseas is encouraged to consult the list of NGOs signed up to the code and the Code of Good Practice on the Comhlámh website.

The Volunteer: That is you! Volunteers need to adapt a learning approach to their volunteering. Volunteers are encouraged to read the "Comhlamh Volunteer Charter" which sets out seven principles that aim to encourage responsible, responsive international volunteering. Each principle contains a list of questions to help you make sure that you have thought about the issues raised, and that you know why they are important.

The Host Project: Host projects are the organisations or community groups in the destination country that receive volunteers. Host communities are the people with whom volunteers work and live while undertaking their overseas placements.


Watch this video about challenging serotypes



Step 5: Learn from Others! The Global Citizen Award

The Global Citizen Award is a personal development award that enables volunteers to share their overseas volunteering experiences and help raise awareness of global issues in Ireland. Read the stories and blogs of previous international volunteers here.


Step 6: Things to Consider

Here are our basics to take into consideration when deciding to volunteer internationally.

1. Accommodation :

There are numerous types of accommodations offered. Accommodations may be dormitory style, with a host family, at a campsite or in some cases private living quarters. If the program does not provide housing you will need to find out, sometimes the program you selected is able to help you locate housing.

2. Affiliations :

When looking into programmes you may want to consider the political, religious, etc. affiliations the program has. For example, if you are looking into a program that is affiliated with a particular religious group you may want to enquire about how the aim/goals of the programmes may or may not be affected by this affiliation.

3. Application Process : 

Note that how long a program requires for an application to be processed. Often you may need a recommendation letter, which you may want to seek out before you begin looking for programmes.

4. Charity Vs Compassion :

The difference between charity and compassion revolves around your role as a volunteer. You should not enter the program thinking that you can change the world or that your way is the right way. Instead you should focus on the learning experience that will come out of such an opportunity. Be open to being taught new ideas and seek to make connections with the people you will work with.

5. Co-workers/Volunteers :

Worthy consideration is the program size. Will you be working alongside other volunteers or will you be placed with a program on your own? Do volunteers begin in waves or are they all placed at the same time? Also does the program you are considering have a group leader/supervisor on the project with you?

6. Embassy :

Ensure there is an Irish Embassy in the country you will be volunteering and know how to reach the Embassy by phone. You can prepare this information before hand by visiting the Irish Embassy website. This is particularly important as passports can go missing! The Department of Foreign Affairs website is very helpful

7. Expectations :

Are the projects defined and does the program clearly outline your duties for the duration of your volunteering? Do you know what the program expects from you? Have you made your  expectations of the program known?

8. Fees :

Some programmes require a fees for participants. You need to Ask for a breakdown for How much of this fee goes towards your insurance, travel, etc. or Does funding go directly to the community you will be volunteering with on the ground?

9. Food : 

Are meals part of your program fee? If that so how many meals per day are provided? Is the water in the region potable? Also if you have certain dietary restrictions, inform your program before you arrive.

10. Medical and Travel Insurance : 

Does the program provide an insurance plan? If your program does not include insurance you will need to check your current insurance plan to see if you will be covered while abroad, if not you may want to look into purchasing a temporary international health coverage plan.

11. Orientation : 

Does your program have an orientation process? Is there a debriefing process after your trip? Have you spent time researching the region you will be visiting; cultural customs, dress, food, weather, religion, politics, etc. Does your program have some process of integrating you into the community you are entering?

12. Packing : 

This will depend on the region you are travelling to. Make sure to look up the seasonal weather patterns for the time frame you will be travelling. To get a better idea of items needed contact your sending agency.

13. Safety : 

Research the area you are travelling and remember to ensure your personal safety at all times.

14. Support : 

Is there a support system in the country? Will there be a director/liaison person nearby? In the case of political unrest, does your program have an evacuation plan? What do you need to do in the case of a serious medical emergency? How often will your program be in contact with you?

15. Visas : 

Unless you are staying for more than a couple of months you will more than likely only need a passport. However to know for sure you will need to contact the Sending Organization. Also keep in mind that getting a visa is a process that can take between a few weeks and a few months.


Step 7: Great Links : Click, click, click!

1. Comhlamh - Overseas Volunteering Options
Visit the Comhlámh Volunteer Programme website to find out everything there is to know about international volunteering.

Where to start -

Visit the Comhlámh Volunteering oversees guide which will encourage you to think critically about your motivations for volunteering overseas and invite you to engage in debate around development issues and the connection with responsible volunteering.

Comhlámh Code of Good Practice - Click Here

Comhlámh Volunteer Charter - Click Here

Comhlámh Social Media Guidelines - Click Here

They introduce approaches to development, Code of good Practice for Sending Agencies and examine the Volunteer Charter and explore how action for development continues after an overseas experience.

2. Dochas - Guide to choosing an effective overseas development NGO
Visit the Dochas website for great tips on recognising effective NGOs, with their guide on questions to ask and special website on emergency help How You Can Help. Taking pictures while you are overseas? Read the Dochas guide to good images.

Dochas Code of Good Conduct for Images and Messages pdf - PDF

3. Galway One World Centre

GOWC is a meeting point for people looking for information on a variety of development topics, including Human Rights, Anti-Racism, and Globalisation. They are located in Galway-drop in for a visit!

4. Irish Aid - Volunteer Centre
The Irish Aid website acts as a guide to volunteering, allowing the individual to review all the options available to them - short term, long term, online volunteering or volunteering in Ireland in support of overseas development. This website also helps individuals to start thinking about volunteering, to look at the various options, question why they want to volunteer and what do they want to get out of their assignment.

The International Volunteerism Resource Center (IVRC) is an online resource designed to help you make informed decisions about volunteering in another country.

6. Washington Ireland Program 
The Washington-Ireland Program for Service and Leadership (WIP), is a six-month program of personal and professional development that brings outstanding Protestant and Catholic university students from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to Washington, DC for summer internships and leadership training. The program begins and ends with practical service in Northern Ireland and Ireland.

7. European Solidarity Corp

The European Solidarity Corp gives 18-25 year olds the opportunity to spend from 3 weeks to 12 months in another European country, as a volunteer on a project which benefits the local community. It is funded by the EC, so the young person has all costs paid for (travel, insurance, accommodation, language tuition etc).European Solidarity Corp is a once in a lifetime opportunity! Don't miss out on this unique chance to work with youth in Italy, an environmental project in Germany, people with disabilities in Poland, new communities in France..the list goes on! 

8. World Volunteer Web
The World Volunteer Web supports the volunteer community by serving as a global clearinghouse for information and resources linked to volunteerism that can be used for campaigning, advocacy and networking. It is an online hub where the community can meet, share resources and coordinate activities to mobilize volunteer action in support of the Millennium Development Goals.

9. United Nations Volunteers 
The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme is the UN organization that contributes to peace and development through volunteerism worldwide. Volunteerism is a powerful means of engaging people in tackling development challenges, and it can transform the pace and nature of development. Volunteerism benefits both society at large and the individual volunteer by strengthening trust, solidarity and reciprocity among citizens, and by purposefully creating opportunities for participation.

10. Department of Foreign Affairs

The Department of Foreign Affairs' website offers a range of information that will be of use to people who are travelling overseas. This includes information on passports, visas and insurance. Read the travel advice!

11. Tropical Medical Bureau

Important medical updates and summaries - a Great read!


Adopting a Learning Approach 

When you are volunteering overseas, you must anchor all your actions in a belief in global equity and a commitment to redressing injustices. This is called adopting a learning approach. Here are some key elements of adopting a learning approach:

  • Willingness to work with Compassion- Demonstrate respect and kindness, and encourage this of others.
  • Openness to Change- It is important to be inquisitive and receptive to learning, to see things through the eyes and experiences of others and to be willing to do things differently.
  • Respect for Diversity- Volunteers working overseas should strive to appreciate different realities, the causes and consequences of a new context, as well as people's existing capacities; being fixed on a single way of doing things prevents creativity!
  • Openness to Mutual Learning-  Engaging others in discussions can help facilitate the exchange of knowledge
  • Interest in Raising our own Consciousness- With heightened consciousness, we are better able to act on ethical values like Human Rights and Social Justice. 


Keeping a Reflective Journal 

While you are away, it is really helpful to keep a journal of your experiences. This will help you to reflect on your emotions, learn about yourself and also will be a way to keep a record of all the things that happen during your volunteering! 

We have the Comhlamh Volunteer Journal in the ALIVE office - for you! If you are interested, please visit us and pick up one!  



Staying ALIVE and Engaged!!

So you've just come back from volunteering overseas and you don't want the experience to end? Good News :  It doesn't have to! You can continue your volunterring journey by getting involved in your local community! Check out all the great volunteering opportunities available on

Be part of the Coming Home Family!

It is vitall to attend your de-brefing when you return from overseas volunteering. See the Comhlamh Website for Coming Home Events, including free online courses to help you bring your reflections and ideas to reality. 

Via Comhlamh and ALIVE you can exchange and chat with other returned volunteers and development workers from across Europe. Learn how to explore the big questions around global justice and development in a creative way, and connect with others doing similar work. We will support you in starting an action project on an issue you are passionate about, and give you the practical tools to carry it out.

Apply for the Global Citizen Award

The Global Citizen Award is a personal development award that enables you to share your overseas volunteering experiences and help raise awareness of global issues in Ireland. The Award is free and open to all returned international volunteers. It offers you an opportunity to take what you have experienced overseas and continue to make a difference to Global Justice issues right here at home. Find out more about how to apply here.

Apply for the EIL Seed Fund and Bring your Awareness Raising Idea to Life!

It can be challenging when we have returned from overseas projects to continue to support worthy causes such as the ones we encountered abroad. There are many ways we can promote and highlight the issues and injustices witnessed. 

On a long-term basis, an effective way in which volunteers can truly make a difference is to educate others about global justice, the Global Goals and the lives of ordinary people in the global south.

EIL recognizes that it can be difficult for returned volunteers to continue their engagement here in Ireland. They may face financial barriers, time constraints or be unable to access the necessary help and support.The EIL Seed Fund Micro Grant Scheme exists to assist returned volunteers to overcome these barriers by providing successful applicants with funding, guidance and support to implement their own awareness-raising projects in Ireland.

Volunteers can apply to the Seed Fund as individuals or as part of a group. Both application forms are available online. 

News Updates 

EIL Scholarship 

EIL is an opportunity to engage in international volunteering with a twist. International volunteering is about learning from and with others. EIL are offering scholarships for international engagement with learning at the centre.

Check out the Website - EIL EXPLORE

5 Awards available to NUI Galway students
8 weeks volunteering and cultural immersion programmes
Fully funded!
Destinations include: Mexico, Thailand, Guatemala, South Africa etc.
Apply Now!! Deadlines and More Information Here!

Join Us! enables students to have the opportunity to: enrich your personal development and employability skills, have a fun experience, meet new people, and give back to your community. Sign up now.

Register Now