Volunteer internationally

What makes one company stand out from others like it? It could be its dedication to a cause, the people involved—or maybe its purpose? One thing is for sure, it takes a group of willing participants to make it great. International Student Volunteers is a nonprofit organization that sends student and non-student volunteers to six different impoverished destinations worldwide to work with the community, animals and ecosystems in an effort to help the population regain sustainability.

ISV is an international company started by Randy Sykes nearly 30 years ago. Sykes’ vision to promote global volunteering has led to the exponential growth of ISV. With his passion for cultural exchange, education and travel programs, Sykes has turned ISV into one of the largest international, award-winning programs of its kind.

“[Sykes] wanted the work that he did to have a profound impact on the lives of other people,” said Portland State Campus Representative Will Elliott.

As an international company, ISV is partnered with over 800 universities around the world. “[ISV] is putting the ‘international’ into international student volunteers,” Elliott said. “The exposure that [students] get, as far as global context, they not only go abroad and get that kind of exposure, but the people they meet there come from different backgrounds as well.”

The experience

ISV is the highest-rated volunteer program in the world, and it works hard to stay so. The attention to detail paid to each individual program distinguishes ISV from so many other organizations like it. From the homes provided for the volunteers to the modes of transportation taken, all of it focuses on responsible ecotourism.

Have you ever wanted to live in a tree hut? What about a grass hut? Through ISV, your experience is as authentic to the community you’re living in as possible. This not only gives participants a more valued experience, but stimulates the impoverished economy and local people, as well as the environment, in a sustainable way.

“If you can’t provide a safe experience, then you shouldn’t be providing any experience at all,” Elliott said.

ISV only works with communities that cannot sustain themselves. In some cases—after years of volunteers offering their time and effort—some communities do not need the same help from ISV any longer.

“We never overstay where we’re not suppose to,” Elliott said. “We don’t want to be a touristy burden on anyone, we want to be international student volunteers. The point where we’re no longer helping anyone, is the point where we’ve done our job.”

Throughout the year, ISV, project and tour leaders will continue to check in on the communities in an effort to make sure they are continuing their success.

Gaining life-experience in a real-world setting is invaluable. To apply what you’ve learned in a classroom and put it into action is something that can’t be replicated in a lecture hall or lab. That being said, doing work for time you won’t get paid for is becoming increasingly unappealing to college students and recent graduates—especially those in debt.

The cost of a trip ranges from $3,900 to $4,495, not including airfare. This is an incredibly hefty price to pay as a student. As a nonprofit, ISV is not able to provide their volunteers with any financial aid, though you are allowed to use financial aid or scholarship money provided through your school. This isn’t always an easy solution. An alternative route Elliott suggests is to work with a group of students–also interested in ISV–who need help financially, to gain funding from local businesses in order to fund your trip.

Something that money can’t buy, as Elliott puts it, is the skill and knowledge you gain from your experience.

“Translating [your experience from ISV] into marketable job experience distinguishes yourself from other students, who studied the exact same thing you did,” Elliott said.

To say the least, ISV is a life-changing experience. Working in an elephant sanctuary, or helping sea turtles find a new home, isn’t something to take for granted. It’s for anyone who wants to be involved.

For questions concerning ISV, contact Will Elliott at [email protected]