Volunteering overseas isn’t just altruistic – it can be a powerful way to advance your career.

Feeling a burning desire to do some good in the world? The opportunities for volunteering overseas are plentiful these days, and the rewards can be huge. But if you consider your options carefully, a volunteer experience can be more than just a gap year.

  • Volunteers will quickly learn invaluable skills: the ability to work with people of diverse backgrounds, operate with scarce resources and to be adaptable. Really adaptable.
  • Professionally, young volunteers will often work at a higher level than they could hope to at the same stage in their career in New Zealand. For example, Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) has been sending young lawyers as legal advisers to Solomon Islands for years. These young Kiwis quickly find themselves working at a senior level with Government Ministers and Provincial Council Executives. Many go on to careers with the UN and other international agencies.
  • Young volunteers return home as leaders. Without being able to call upon other knowledge as easily as they can in New Zealand, they become more confident in their own decision-making.
  • Being exposed to international issues can set young graduates on a clear career path. VSA’s UniVol programme sends students studying International Development on 10-month assignments in the Pacific. These assignments tend to crystallise exactly how to use a development background, whether it’s in diplomacy, human rights, education or elsewhere.

The important thing to remember is to treat your volunteer experience as any other job on your CV when it comes to your next step – talk up the personal and professional skills developed while on assignment.

Remember, though, that not all volunteering is created equal. Look for organisations that work in partnership with the local community to create projects based on that community’s priorities. When you find the assignment that’s the right fit, it should work for you and for the people and communities in which you work.

As just about every VSA volunteer says – you’ll get far more than you give.


VSA sends extraordinary Kiwis to share their experience and knowledge with local people and communities, to make better lives for everyone. Volunteers come from a wide range of backgrounds, from business, law, health and tourism, to youth advocates. VSA offers short- and long-term volunteer assignments throughout the wider Pacific, and covers flights, accommodation and a modest living allowance as well as a few other costs.


(Thanks to VSA for giving us the low down on their programme for this article!)

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Personal development, Volunteer experience, Work experience, Work overseas