Volunteering as an Expat: make a difference even now

Updated: Apr 9

Last month we had a pleasure to give a talk at the Ask the Expat Expert session organized by Expat in the City and share our experience around volunteering as an expat. We wanted to share with you all of the hints and tips hoping that you may find something inspiring in it as well and... who knows! Maybe even take that first step towards volunteering (if you haven't had yet)!! :)




Q: How do you make a difference, not just living?


I was always fascinated by how much of an impact, one single drop of water has. When it falls down, pulled by the gravity to finally hit the surface of the water and spread the energy everywhere around it and create ripples pulsing and reaching further and further, where no one would have ever imagined. And that’s just one single drop, reaching so far! That’s what I aspire to be. To be this one, single drop with a ripple effect.


I am Klem and for the last 18 years I am trying to make a difference in this world through volunteering and pulling others into this, while living a regular work-eat-sleep expat life, because I believe that everyone can make a difference and everyone should at least TRY.


Easier said than done! If you think of that… Do you actually know what difference you want to make in the world? Do you know what message to the world your life should be?


Do you know what message to the world your life should be?


Below I am going to share with you my experience on volunteering abroad as an expat, as well as some surprising facts behind the impact of volunteering, along with a handful of hints and tips on how to find volunteering opportunities in English in Germany. So that you can become that one single drop that will cause the ripples to appear to collectively make a difference.


Q: You mentioned that volunteering isn’t only helping others, but also ourselves. What do you mean?


I think that each one of us had a moment in life, especially when starting a new life abroad, when we felt lost, lonely or contemplated the purpose of life. At certain age, our lives can turn into a schema: wake up, go to work, eat, sleep, repeat, wake up and… yet another year passed by. We easily get pulled into our day-to-day lives, tempted with repetitiveness and false sense of stability and in time we notice in our hearts a felling of emptiness, loneliness or lost sense of greater purpose in life. I’ve been there and I don’t want it any more.


That’s where volunteering can help and switch our focus from being self-absorbed to that greater sense of purpose that touches the lives of others in a positive way. With volunteering you can put others before yourself and contribute to activities that actually make a damn difference by just doing something self-less. But… helping others is just one side of the coin!



Studies show, that volunteering has tremendous effect on ourselves as well! Someone told me some time ago, that “Doing good, does you good” and I couldn’t express it simpler! A recent study from Carnegie Mellon University indicates that people who give their time to others have better physical health—including lower blood pressure and a longer lifespan. And studies have also shown that volunteering helps people who donate their time feel more socially connected, thus preventing from loneliness and depression.


Make no mistake. Volunteering just as much as it is giving back, it’s also investing in ourselves, helping us draft that message that we want the world to hear from us.


I can say that when volunteering we feel that sensation of fulfilment and joy. Or even more! When we volunteer with others, we bond by doing something meaningful and we also inspire others causing a ripple effect. Out of a sudden we become that one, single drop.


Yes. Volunteering first of all brings a positive social change to the world and allows you to make that positive difference that we all seek for. But make no mistake. Volunteering just as much as it is giving back, it’s also investing in ourselves, helping us draft that message that we want the world to hear from us.


Q: After these words, everyone is probably convinced to volunteering. But the biggest doubt that our audience may have right now is how to volunteer during the lock down. Any ideas?


Yes! There are actually plenty opportunities out there and just like in 2020 each one of use needed to adjust to the new normal, so did the organizations out there by becoming flexible and finding new ways how to get helped. And I am fairly warning you right now, it’s going to be plenty of information! ;)


First of all, there are some reasonable concerns that we all have while volunteering during the pandemic. And I am with you! So, I am going to say it loud and clear before giving you any hints: there’s one rule that I always try to follow, which is the safety instruction from the plane: put the oxygen mask on yourself first. In other words: If you want to help others, make sure you’re safe first, especially during the Pandemic.


Second of all, there’s another comment from my side, that volunteering is often associated with the adventure of your life, taking a gap year and traveling to Costa Rica to save sea turtles. Yes! We’ve been there, done that and it is truly life changing, but it isn’t really an option for the Corona-times. So we must also acknowledge, that sometimes, especially now, money can make the biggest difference, because many organizations out there are really scrapping every penny right now to survive. So it’s worth considering this as well.


Finally! Let’s move on to the hints and tips. I am going to show you 3 different ways to volunteer and few specific examples where you can start your own research. All you’ve got to do is to listen to your heart, and when it starts to beat faster, pick up the details and sign up. It’s really THAT simple.


Let’s explore 3 areas: #1 options for free, #2 options to use your unique skills and #3 platforms aggregating different options.


#1 OPTIONS FOR FREE:


1.1. Be My Eyes

For all tech lovers, you’re going to like this one. Be My Eyes is a free app that connects blind and low-vision people with sighted volunteers for visual assistance through a live video call. It might be eye-opening for many of us, who aren’t blind or low visioned – some basic things can be really challenging for those who don’t see well or at all, like reading the expiration date on a milk box. Whilst we can do it any time, others can’t and you can help. All you’ve got to do is to install the app and pick up a video call in case someone needs you and be their eyes for a moment to i.e. read the expiration date.



1.2. Neighbourhood support platforms

Connecting neighbors together and helping each others. Probably the best known neighbourhood network in Germany is nebenan.de, which connects around 1.4 million neighbors. Over there, the registered people can publish their own help offers or use other’s help offerings. And you can do this as well and connect with your neighbours! All you’ve got to do is to register, get verified and either post your offer to help or respond to a help request. Each one of us can do that and there’s no shame in writing in English neither!


1.3. Opening a gift fence

Finally if we don’t want to be glued to our laptops for the whole day, we can open a gift fence! What is it? It’s an initiative that started in Hamburg and it means that you can hang on a fence food, warm clothes, toys, books that you don’t need any longer – all of that with a kind message attached for all of those who need those basic things. Then those in need can come to the fence and serve themselves if needed. The best part about it is that you can also engage neighbors and start the ripple effect in your own community. Just make sure that you have an explanation on the fence who it is for and how to contribute and pick items or use other fences organized in bigger cities.


1.4. Bonus ideas

Bonus ideas are as simple as cleaning trash in your neighborhood on your walk with the dog, doing groceries for your elderly neighbors or even supporting local small businesses that struggle to survive in these times. And it’s really easy to take an extra bag with you when you go on a walk.


Those options are simple and literally each one of us can make it, either on a regular basis or just from time to time. You don’t have to have any super powers to do them.


Q: What if you do have some super powers?


Well... There are also options out there, where your skills are extremely needed and you can’t imagine how much different organizations can benefit from skills that seem to be easy-peasy for you. Maybe you’re building websites, perhaps you know a rare language or perhaps you’re a social media specialist.



#2 VOLUNTEERING OPTIONS TO USE YOUR SKILLS:


2.1. Any of your skills

ALL of them are of use! – loads of organizations lack a specific help in their operational day-to-day jobs, including social media, graphic design, photography, press, PR or even writing. So come on! There’s got to be someone within those who are reading right now, who is doing these things even as a hobby, like i.e. photography. Think that you can even have mutual benefits: you can i.e. take pictures for an organization and expand your portfolio at the same time.


And your skills, whichever you have, can help A LOT to keep the organization going. It can be ANY skill. But some of us might have the hardest on this Planet superpower: speaking German.... ;)


2.2. German language knowledge

Some of us do speak German on a sufficient level to help those who didn’t master this difficult language yet. Triaphon is a telephone emergency line connecting the volunteering language mediators with doctors, nurses and patients, to translate short telephone conversations and therefore enable the medical help, which can be even live saving.


Triaphon offers a 24-hour telephone translation service for hospitals for Arabic, Farsi/Dari, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Turkish and Vietnamese. If you are able to translate in such situations yourself, it is worth taking a look at their website. All you’ve got to do is to pick up a phone from time to time.


2.3. Help in getting job on German market

All of us know that one of the very first thing you’ve got to think about when getting to a new country is to get a job. There are many people out there with the migration background who will need your help. If you have an experience with the recruitment process or went through many of them, you can help others get their job to start a new life here, by helping build their CV or share your experience around the German recruitment processes. And some of people who seek such help will appreciate help in English as well.


2.4. Teach local language

And finally: your help in learning German. I don’t speak perfect German myself, but I can still help with teaching the basics and provide an opportunity to others to train speaking, by having 1hour per week video call through WhatsApp and simply talking German.


All of these volunteering opportunities may require more specific skills or basic German knowledge, but think of it this way: even if you’re just passionate about certain skill and don’t do this professionally, even if it’s just a basic German, your help might still have a great impact on the organizations that lack certain skills and on the individuals whose lives can change depending on their knowledge of German!


Q: That sounds like a lot! How can we search for all of the volunteering opportunities during the pandemic in English?


#3 volunteering search aggregates


There are plenty of volunteering search aggregates which will help you find opportunities matching your specific skills or your city, but here are 2 that I can recommend the most:


3.1. Vostel.de - our absolute favourite!

I’m a HUGE fan of the Vostel.de platform. It is providing with the volunteering opportunities in Germany only. Just for Munich alone there are 244 opportunities at the moment, so there’s got to be SOMETHING that you will like and feel confident about helping. The best thing about this platform, is that it’s in English and... you can find opportunities in English as well, even if you don’t speak perfect German! All you’ve got to do is to insert your city or the skill you are after and listen to your heart.


3.2. UN Online Volunteering

A portal of online volunteering activities, many that support women and young individuals. They currently have numerous COVID-19 specific virtual projects and you can search for volunteer opportunities per specific area: ranging from translation, art and design, writing and editing, advocacy, community organizing, technology development, and more. You can also pick up our region, i.e. the entire Europe. All it takes is that one, first step and then the right opportunity will find you.


Q: That's a lot! And what does Breathe and Live Yoga School have in common with volunteering?