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The Wrath of ‘Voluntourism’ – a First World Culture

By Hannah Newberry

The dramatic rise in volunteering abroad is nothing if not prevalent. Students scarper to have the most fresh, outgoing CV to demonstrate their charitable nature to an employer against all the other jobseekers. Some will have a genuine interest for understanding a local culture and therefore embrace any accessible opportunities, and others will just see it as another place to splash their parent’s money for a story to tell around the dinner table.

The controversial question I seek to answer is, is the normalisation of volunteering abroad necessarily a good thing? In the past few years, it has been wholly embraced exclusively by first world countries and rarely alludes to a genuine work ethic. Any search engine is likely to find thousands of adverts; whether it’s working with orphanages in Ghana or saving turtles in Bali. There is absolutely no doubt that the concept of ‘finding yourself’ or receiving good karma is a substantiated idea that we have definitely worked out how to profit from.

The mocking stereotype of ‘gap yah’ students is far from an overused joke – many students feel fundamentally excluded from these opportunities which makes no sense when the idea of giving something back should be universally encouraged. The thesis that arises from a mathematical viewpoint, is that if every student clambers to save half their loan for a few weeks abroad, is this really about ‘giving’ or just enunciating the drastic financial divide between western cultures and regions further afield?

There is no doubt that these places would see far more benefit from a professional input as opposed to kids with no intuition or cultural awareness, so is this all about writing a few words on your job application about helping the less fortunate? From being one of the many students that follow others lives incessantly on social media, I can’t say I see the charitable aspect of elephant riding or flying out to Mongolia business-class to hold hands with a hungry child (with the right filter on it for Snapchat of course).

Is this ‘Eat Pray Love’ rhetoric merely a ruse perpetuated by these companies who know we’re quick to envy those around us? Is this simply a more generalised version of filming yourself feeding a homeless person with a heartfelt Facebook caption?

Volunteering is not necessarily a bad thing – but you shouldn’t do it to fluff up your application forms if it’s your only incentive. Save the employer the effort of having to distinguish fact from CV, and find something else that suits you. If you’ve got a true desire to discover an Asian culture, or conserve endangered animals in Africa then the fact that you have this opportunity is absolutely amazing, and just shows how far we’ve developed socially and technologically so that you can now set foot in these environments and not just learn from a PowerPoint slide. Just don’t expect that it will all be hunky dory Instagram updates if you’re reluctant to work long days for free to strive for something good.

There is no doubt in my mind that the days of volunteering without an ulterior motive are sadly becoming more infrequent by the day, due to profitability and ever-growing pressure on undergraduates to outrank the other. We are in drastic need of more individuals that travel with their heart in the right place and not an intense desire to bore their friends to tears with an untrue tale of altruistic nonsense.

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