Want to Become an International Volunteer? This Is the Right Stuff.

Julie H. Case

Here are five of the top skills and traits you’ll need if you’re applying to serve overseas on disaster response and humanitarian operations with Team Rubicon.

On January 16, Team Rubicon opened its first of two 2023 application periods for those who want to volunteer internationally. For anyone wondering if they have what it takes to become an international volunteer or if now is the time to apply, here are the top skills, qualifications, and traits needed to volunteer abroad. 

You Can Pick Up and Go at the Drop of a Hat and Stay Away for Extended Periods

With an ever-increasing need for humanitarian aid worldwide, Team Rubicon international volunteers are sometimes asked to head to a disaster zone, a refugee camp, or to supply medical aid in a conflict zone with very little advance notice—and to stay there and serve for three weeks or longer.  

If you’re thinking of applying to volunteer internationally with Team Rubicon, it’s important to ask yourself if now is the right time in your life and if you’re able to leave for a foreign country with little notice for an extended amount of time. 

You Excel in Stressful, Dynamic, or Unpredictable Situations

Providing international humanitarian aid can mean going off the grid, serving in places where infrastructure is lacking or has been rendered unusable by a disaster, sleeping rough, or trying to navigate cultural differences in conflict-rich environments where you don’t speak the language. Fundamentally, international volunteers need to be able to live in sometimes austere or harsh conditions, all while serving effectively in high-stress, insecure, and sometimes volatile situations.

The best international volunteers are unfazed by rapidly changing plans, can calmly navigate a military checkpoint en route to their operation center, and don’t mind getting themselves and the patients they’re serving into a shelter at the first sound of an air raid siren.   

You’re Culturally Adept 

If you thrive around other ethnic groups and can get comfortable in unfamiliar cultural settings, you’ll be a good fit for international volunteer work. That’s because the majority of humanitarian aid work occurs in countries where cultural heritages and practices far predate those common in the U.S. and where English is typically not the primary language.

You Can Carry Your Own Weight, Literally

While international Greyshirts aren’t expected to carry their own body weight, they are often expected to carry weeks’ worth of emergency medical supplies and other equipment into a disaster zone. If you can do a 3-mile hike in 45 minutes or less while wearing a 45-pound backpack, you could be a good fit for international aid work. 

You’re a Professional and a Leader With International Experience 

Whether you’ve demonstrated leadership in austere or challenging environments—think in the U.S. military, with a humanitarian aid organization, or an international entity—hold a degree in international affairs, international development, or political science, or have experience living abroad in humanitarian settings, deep knowledge of international relations is key trait Team Rubicon is seeking in international volunteers. 

Bonus: You’re Fluent in a Second Language

While not a hard requirement, speaking another language—especially Spanish, French, Portuguese, or Arabic—is a major plus for international volunteers. Fluency in a second language not only allows volunteers to better communicate with the people they are serving but also makes it easier for responders to work with, and gain the trust of, local leaders. 

Five Questions to Ask Yourself Before Applying to Be a Team Rubicon International Volunteer

Is this the right time in my life?
Am I able to step away from personal, family, work, or financial responsibilities and plans for as much as three weeks at a time? 
Do I really, actually perform well in stressful, dynamic, or unpredictable situations, and do I even want to be put in one?
Do I do well in other cultural and or ethnic settings?
Am I able to leave with little notice for an extended amount of time?

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