Volunteer Programs are Inherently Selfish and Maybe That’s Okay?


I applied to Global Citizen Year because I am, as I believe all humans are, selfish. I knew I wanted to study abroad and Global Citizen Year checked off all of my boxes:

  1. Include host family stays

  2. Set in a Spanish speaking country

  3. Be affordable

  4. Offer a long stay in country

  5. Be volunteer based


All of these points were very important to me while searching for a study abroad program and the most important point was number five; be a program that is volunteer based. All of these points are selfish, yes even number five, because during the formulation of what I was looking for in a program I was thinking solely about myself. This seems impossible though doesn’t it? Someone who is specifically looking for a volunteer based program can’t be selfish because volunteering itself is a selfless act! This is a belief that leads to voluntourism which can be severely damaging. I wanted a volunteer based program because I like helping people because I feel good about helping others. All of this is focused on myself, the volunteer, when it should be focused on the individuals that the volunteering should be helping. Thoughts like these lead to voluntourism and is why volunteer programs are inherently selfish. While I do not intend my bridge year to resemble voluntourism in anyway there is no denying that my good intentions for the year are bred from a place of selfishness.


The Spanish Department of the high school I graduated from organizes a trip every two years to a Spanish speaking country. Each one of these trips includes a “service day” where the students go visit either an underprivileged school, daycare, etc. When attending an informational meeting for the trip to Ecuador and Panama that I wanted to participate in multiple students who had gone on the previous trip to Costa Rica said this day was their favorite. The students spent time playing with the children they believed they had made a lasting impact on. They shared stories about this being their favorite part because the money fundraised was used to provide new ceiling fans and a new roof and it was “neat” to see how much the local students lives had been improved. As I was sitting in a room with dozens of other prospective trip goers I couldn’t help but thinking that those children would be forgotten soon and that it was terrible how my peers believed the day taken out of their school vacation had made a life long impact. Yet I went on the trip to Ecuador. We also had a service day where we played with young children at a daycare and showed them the presents we had bought. Then we left the country a few days later for Panama and the children were already made out to be fond memories rather than actual human beings. This act of swooping in for a day in a foreign country to play with children whom have had things purchased for them will certainly continue on. Some will say why not? There are new ceiling fans and a new roof in that school in Costa Rica which will make learning for the students easier. The day care in Ecuador now has fake grass to play on rather than cement which will lead to fewer injuries while playing. Even if the intentions for good comes from selfishness at least good is being done, right?

This is one question that I hope to find an answer to during my bridge year with Global Citizen Year.