Navigating life as an immigrant is different & difficult. Our first few experiences shape the way of opening up & accepting the way of life in a new country. We have heard stories, read blogs, watched movies and sitcoms, and maybe even visited the USA as a tourist but never stayed for an extended period to make it your home. The excitement of living in the US is always accompanied by nervousness about what to do next?
Irrespective of the way you have entered the US – as a student, working professional or dependent spouse; Volunteering is one of the best ways to learn, understand & get to know your local community. You’ll understand the local culture, etiquette, language & meet new people.
Volunteering in North America is well defined & organized. Non-profit organizations take care in setting clear roles for volunteers, provide hand holding & in many cases provide necessary training. Volunteer work is acknowledged in high regard; thus, many Fortune 500 companies insist on employees spending a few hours of their month volunteering across various nonprofits.
Let me take you through the questions that I once had regarding volunteering & probably that will help you go ahead with it.
What is Volunteering?
- Non profit organizations need and look for volunteers.
- Volunteer work does not include monetary compensation. At the most you will get a t-shirt or an item as a token of appreciation, but it is at the discretion of the organization.
- If you choose to volunteer, it is understood that you are willing to dedicate your time, skills & efforts as a volunteer by choice
“If I am not getting paid, why should I volunteer?”
If this question popped into your mind as you finished reading the previous paragraph, you are thinking exactly the way I did 6 years ago.
Here are 6 reasons why you should consider volunteering –
- Get out of home & something to look forward to
After the initial excitement of being in the USA, exploring, shopping & settling fades away, the routine gets to you. If you don’t have a work authorization, the stay-at-home life soon starts to affect your confidence & self-esteem. Volunteering gives you a reason to get out of your home. You have somewhere to go where you are needed. It keeps you in a positive state of mind as your time, skills & efforts are directed towards helping a cause or your community.
- Learning social etiquette & culture
As new immigrants, we are not aware & adept with local culture & etiquette. Social gestures like smiling or greeting a random stranger, a casual ‘how are you?’, holding the door open for someone and small talk seem odd and weird to us. Volunteering helps you understand & navigate these social norms. As your interaction with locals increases you get comfortable and confident to be by yourself in a social setting.
- Creating connections & network
Volunteering helps you strike new friendships beyond the usual immigrant friends & family. Many times, these connections become valuable references that can vouch for your skills or work ethic. There have been instances in larger organizations, where volunteers have been absorbed into the organization as employees after the appropriate selection & interview process.
- Understanding issues that matter to your community
Volunteering is an excellent place to get involved & participate in local events, non-profit organizations, or activities that you are passionate about. Many events like animal adoption camps, marathons, annual fairs, Christmas parades, etc. hosted by local organizations always require volunteers for the events. And believe me, the events are heartwarming.
- Developing your confidence
Volunteering does wonders for your confidence. It helps boost your self-esteem & renews your mental state of mind. It gives you a sense of belonging to your community as you work towards a cause.
- Brushing up your core skills
If you are specific about utilizing your skills while volunteering, check out organizations like Taproot Foundation, Volunteer Match, and CatchaFire which make skill-based connections between volunteers & non-profits. You will not only be brushing up on your skills but also be involved in exciting projects. If you are volunteering in School-based programs, local hospitals, or places that follow strict codes & regulations you will be given appropriate training before you start volunteering.
How & where should you start?
Honestly, I started slow, and tagged along with a friend who volunteered for a school-based program for kids. Check with your friends who volunteer. Search online for volunteering opportunities. Organizations usually will ask you to shadow another volunteer to gain insight into how & what role you will be executing as a volunteer.
Just like a job, once you commit to volunteering ensure that you are punctual & perform your work with integrity. As a volunteer, you can always ask for help from employees & other volunteers. It’s okay to not know all the answers. You are welcome to direct questions to the appropriate person in the org.
My personal experience?
I started volunteering within a few months of arrival in the US & have not stopped. I can confidently say that volunteering across various organizations has helped me gain new perspective & confidence. The connections developed through volunteering opened opportunities for me to participate in bigger local events. And I made friends beyond the immigrant community!
About the writer: Priyanka Jamenis – Marketer by profession, DIY crafter by night & storyteller at heart. Always on the lookout for stories that resonate & linger in one’s heart, she enjoys traveling, dancing, reading, music & learning more about cultures, customs & traditions.