An American Value undefined

Helping others by volunteering is a traditional American value derived from the beginnings of the country’s history in which individuals relied on each other to survive. The 19th century was the beginning of the formation of more formalized charitable organizations. Today, many social service  organizations do excellent work in their communities to create positive change. These organizations often rely on volunteers to help run their programs and increase their impact. They may not have the funding to hire for these positions, and volunteers can provide much-needed working hours.

International students in programs in the U.S. often learn about this aspect of American culture by participating in volunteer activities organized by their schools or English language and culture programs.

Volunteering in the U.S. 

Many Americans choose to volunteer with an organization that aligns with their personal interests, passions, and goals. They see this work as valuable and want to be a part of that positive change in their communities. Companies often sponsor employee service days, when all the employees volunteer their time together. Increasingly, volunteer experience has become a necessary component of university applications for undergraduate and many graduate programs. The cultural expectation is that if students are able, they should volunteer their time to a cause they care about.

Benefits of Volunteering 

For everyone, volunteering provides benefits such as:

  • helping others who have a need.
  • developing self-awareness.
  • giving to something larger than yourself.

For international students, there can be additional benefits:

  • learning about American and local culture.
  • practicing your English communication skills.
  • applying your academic knowledge in the real world.
  • being able to add practical real-life experience to your CV/resume and graduate school applications; employers and schools want to see evidence of well-rounded people, and this is one indication of your outside interests.

Choosing Volunteer Opportunities

As an international student, volunteering (often called service learning within education) may seem daunting. Although you may want to participate in service, you likely aren’t as familiar with the society and community (especially compared with your home community), and you may not know how to find reputable organizations that are making a positive impact. Connecting service learning with your English language studies can be a way for you to be a part of a community service organization and make an impact. Talk to your instructors or advisors in your program if you’re interested in volunteering – it may be part of your class curriculum, or they may have some suggestions for local organizations you can join. If you are part of an educational institution such as a college or university, there may be service learning opportunities available through the student life division of the college. 

In the end, think about what you are passionate about — maybe it’s elementary education, an environmental issue, health education and awareness, women’s rights… there is no shortage of local and global issues, and you can take steps to create positive change in your society, including  in your new community as an international student. Your efforts are welcome!

Resources for Volunteering in the U.S. is a website which matches volunteers in many cities in the U.S. to organizations in need. You may also find an organization in your city which matches volunteers to organizations. For example, in Oregon, you can find out more through HandsOnPortland.

About the author: Erica Harris contributed this article to our blog. Erica is passionate about bringing service learning to her classrooms and students.