What Can You Really Learn From Volunteering Overseas?

Mark Horoszowski

Mark Horoszowski is the co-founder and CEO of MovingWorlds.org.

Learning Overseas

“Volunteering overseas is a transformative experience… it is an investment in development”

Volunteering has many benefits, including being a driver of happiness and personal health. We even argue that volunteering is good for your career. In addition, volunteering across borders can be truly transformative from a skill development perspective. As Michael Brosnan argues, “By connecting learning to life, we are helping [people] be creative, caring, capable, and engaged human beings.


What Skills Do You Learn Volunteering Overseas?

At MovingWorlds, we help people volunteer their skills overseas and we often get this question. Reporting shows that the most common skills include:


In a 2013 report, Deloitte research shared that “76 percent of human resource executives said the skills and experience acquired while volunteering make a job candidate more desirable.1 This is because, as Harvard Business Review reports, “the best managers and executives have international experience.2


The ability to communicate with teammates is a key indicator of team performance, and a key indicator of the ‘ability to communicate’ is understanding. Volunteering overseas forces people to interact across different cultures and primary languages, inherently developing some of these softer skills. As Bootsnall reports “Interacting with people from different corners of the world will undoubtedly make you a better listener, more compassionate, more willing to understand others, and better at communicating.3


While you aren’t guaranteed to learn this skill while volunteering overseas, we train all of our members on Human Centered Design practices inspired by IDEO. This approach is proved to create sustainable solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges. People that embraced HCD best-practices tend to be higher-performing and more effective and creating innovative, sustainable solutions.4


Solving problems in some of the most problematic areas is a crash course in building up resilience, tenacity, and grit. In emerging research, “grit” is considered one of the best predictors of success.5

As the world becomes more interconnected, global leaders become even more important, and volunteering overseas can help you develop the very skill sets that companies are looking for.  In fact, the personal development of people who go volunteering overseas is so impressive, many companies are harnessing international corporate volunteering in their leadership development programs. As Harvard Business Review summarizes

…The first clear theme that emerged is the importance of a global outlook and meaningful international experience. Already the foremost emerging skill over the past decade, a global orientation is apt to become even more dominant going forward.6

For more information about the skills you can develop while volunteering overseas, we recommend you read this information article in Stanford’s Social Innovation Review ‘From Service Learning to Learning Service‘. And if you ever want to talk about how volunteering overseas is beneficial to professionals and field organizations, I love talking about this stuff.

1: http://blog.movingworlds.org/experience-vs-education-for-career/
2: http://hbr.org/2010/09/be-a-better-manager-live-abroad/ar/1
3: http://www.bootsnall.com/articles/11-09/12-career-skills-that-travel-will-improve.html
4: http://www.wired.com/2013/12/human-centered-design-matters/
5: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/ted-talks-education/speaker/dr-angela-lee-duckworth/
6: http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/03/the-seven-skills-you-need-to-thrive-in-the-c-suite/