‘I’m too busy’ seems to be one of the most common remarks people give me when I ask them whether they volunteer. Granted, we are all busy, but are we making time for things that matter?
We all live demanding lives, including students. You have to juggle studies, work and social commitments, so it’s understandable that it may be difficult to find time to volunteer. However, many students do not realise how beneficial volunteering can be. The right volunteering experience can help you make new connections, reduce stress, learn new skills, create a sense of belonging in your new adopted home in Australia and possibly even help advance your career.
Volunteering provides essential help to people in need but the benefits can be even greater for you as a volunteer. I have reaped so much fulfillment from my time volunteering. Besides meeting some extraordinary people I would have never met otherwise, I also got a string of work through connections I made through volunteering as a student.
I got my first professional job in Australia as an editor for a magazine simply because I helped put together a publication for the student organisation I was part of, and did it well. Think of volunteering as a platform of showcasing your abilities, you never know who is watching.
My love for volunteering started as early as my third day since I arrived in Melbourne. I remember picking up a student magazine and submitted my nomination to be part of a student association. I was elected Publicity Officer that year, and became the President the next. There is no doubt that this was the start of my love for giving back.
Personally, I prefer to be part of long-term volunteer programs than one-off events. But while it’s true that the more you give, the more you get, volunteering doesn’t have to be too time-consuming. Do what suits you best.
For the sheer fact that we are all busy, it is imperative that we volunteer well. Here are some of my thoughts about how you can get the most from your volunteering experience:
- Make a firm commitment, make sure you turn up. This sounds trivial but you will be surprised how many people sign up to help but cancel last minute, or worse, just not show.
- Chose an organisation or cause that means something to you (the disadvantage, environment, animals are some examples). That way you will commit to it.
- You should also consider picking an organisation that you are interested in working at in the future as volunteering is a great entry into that workplace. Do your research beforehand
- You can either volunteer your skills to a role you are good at, or, challenge yourself and go for something you want to learn more about
- If you want to help out at an office, pick a place close to where you work or study, so you don’t have to travel too much. Always make it convenient for yourself
- International students always have issues attaining ‘local work experience’ when looking for employment. Volunteering provides you that experience which you can include in your resume and share at job interviews, so be curious, look for ways to learn beyond the responsibilities you are given
- Never expect rewards, the learning experience is the most precious
- You get what you put into it – work hard and benefits will follow
- Volunteer with a friend – that way you are more motivated to commit and share the experience with
- Challenge yourself, take on roles you are excited about but have no knowledge of, but wanting to learn, if there’s an option to do so
- Be realistic about your commitment, do what you can, and do it well. Quality is always better than the quantity of time you put in
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Volunteering is a great time to learn, in a safe space without being judged.
- Finally, perhaps most importantly, whatever you do, strive on leaving a mark. Always strive add value and find ways to fill gaps. People will notice your contribution. Volunteering is not just about being involved but being truly engaged.
Make people remember you. Then the benefits will follow.
Gary Lee first arrived in Melbourne as an international student from Malaysia. As an international student, Gary volunteered for an international student association for two years, the Royal Children’s Hospital Starlight Express Room for over 18 months and helped out at many community events across Victoria.
Gary is the Founder and Chief Choreographer of dance crews PoisE’n and PoisE’n Bollypop (established since his university days), serves as the social media and event manager for the Moroccan Children’s Appeal and is the Ambassador for Bully Zero Australia Foundation, Welcome to Australia, the AFL Multicultural Community Program and Melbourne Victory.
In January 2016, Gary was presented with the Australia Day Council ‘New Australian of the Year 2016.’