My birthday is coming up! Just like my other birthdays, I don’t have any special plans because I never care much about birthday celebration. I’m also not one of the people who makes birthday resolutions. I do, however, like to take a moment around my birthday to remember all my blessings and to be grateful about it.
Soon I’ll be 29 and so I’ve been reflecting about life in my twenties. When I look back, I realize that there is something that constantly leads me into great opportunities in life. And since you asked, let me tell you what it is: it’s the simple act of volunteering.
I started my volunteering activities not as early as others, and it was by accident. When I was in college I had no reliable computer to do my homework, so I went to this youth center because they have free computers that I can use. But after a while, I became involved in their counseling and outreach programs. I was inspired by what they do in providing accessible, non-judgmental, and youth friendly reproductive health information for young people. I became one of their volunteers! I started volunteering in my sophomore year and I keep volunteering/working until I graduated from college.
From this volunteer experience, I gained not only confidence and skills, but also some solid working experience. And thanks to that, I was able to apply for a scholarship to study more about gender and reproductive health issues. The scholarship is not meant for fresh graduates, and so without my years of experience in the youth center, I wouldn’t be eligible.
But you probably knew my story… I went to the Netherlands for a master degree when I was 22! (I turned 23 during my first week in the Netherlands). And yes, it was funded by a scholarship!!! This great opportunity wouldn’t be possible if I didn’t volunteer at the first place!
The same story of how volunteering opens up another great opportunity happened again when I moved to the US to be with my hubby. Uprooted, unemployed, and lost, I decided to do something productive by volunteering in a nonprofit that works in child welfare issues. I started volunteering just a month after I moved to Albany NY, and I keep volunteering even after I got a temporary job.
I was looking for a more meaningful job so one day I emailed my volunteer supervisor, asking her to provide me with a reference for a job that I was applying. She replied with a very exciting news: that they have a position open! Short story, I went to the interview and today, I’ve been working as a full-time staff in that agency for more than a year . This is a story of how volunteering experience opens up a job opportunity for an expat in this bleak economy!
When we volunteer, we might think that we are donating our time, expertise or resources. That is true. But at the same time, we are also getting a lot more, not just from the volunteering experience but also from the future opportunities that it leads to.
I guess it doesn’t matter if we decide to volunteer because we are interested in getting all the benefits from it. And our motivation can be about anything, from brushing up our resume to spending more time with that other cute volunteer. But remember that in order to enjoy all the benefits, we need to be serious in volunteering. Volunteer is a job too, it deserves the same level of commitment and professionalism that we would dedicate to a “real” paid job.
Another thing is, always try to volunteer and serve the community around us. If you’re an international student, the easiest way to find information about volunteer opportunities is by going to websites such as idealist or volunteermatch. You can pick they type of cause that you’re interested in supporting, the location that’s right for you, and the type of volunteer job that’s needed. If your schedule is too tight for in-office volunteer, I’m sure there are plenty of volunteer positions that can be done from home such as translating, web design, writing newsletter for the agency, etc.
I’m so glad I decided to volunteer. It really makes a difference in my life. And in birthdays like this, it always humbles me to remember how my life has been so blessed. There’s no better way for me to show my gratitude than by giving it back to others. Pass on the kindness and share the love. Let’s make the world a better place!
Image credit: http://derickfaison.com/lsc-hello-katty-birthdaycakeinlas-vegas/
9/11 In Tribute
First Birthday in Holland