Challenges and Benefits to Volunteering in a Foreign Country

Hailey Donohue is a student at Northern Michigan University and an ISA Featured Blogger. She completed an ISA Service-Learning Program in Meknes, Morocco

Volunteering in a foreign place seems to be a pretty straightforward endeavor until you experience it firsthand. I expected volunteer work in a Moroccan Center for Disabilities to be just like volunteer work at home but on a larger scale. I expected hard work, satisfaction, and fulfillment. Here are the unique challenges and benefits that accompany volunteer work abroad that I never expected:


Serious Self Reflection

While this is undoubtedly a benefit of any experience, it’s also a huge challenge. Analyzing your own skills and abilities regularly, while ultimately rewarding, is daunting. It is a truly unique process to view yourself through the lens of your capabilities, asking what you have to offer in an environment completely new and different. 



Just living in an environment for which you’re not perfectly equipped creates vulnerability. Attempting to give to others when you yourself aren’t entirely comfortable or knowledgeable in their culture is humbling to say the least. The benefit to the challenge of vulnerability is the equal platform that humility places everyone on. In my experience, it became clear how relative the idea of “disability” is. A foreigner without the language or cultural knowledge to understand my surroundings, I became equally, if not more “disabled” than the students I was looking to serve.


Everything Takes More

The journey takes longer, but the destination is worth it. Every task and every encounter takes double the time and effort to complete, but the result is always exponentially more rewarding. Though trying to serve seems meaningless when it takes so much extra work and help from others to carry out, both the server and the served are more fulfilled when the end goal is met.


If you’re looking to challenge yourself, check out ISA Service-Learning options here!


4 thoughts

  1. What a great experience,and beautifully portrayed through your article Hailey Donohue!

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