I traveled a lot in 2010-2011. My travel blog is at travel.janetriley.net.
I volunteered in Cambodia for nine months at Angkor Hospital for Children, which provides free or low-cost health care in Siem Reap. I worked as a web applications programmer on their patient medical record system, thanks to a posting on Idealist.
When preparing to go overseas, I went to Meet, Plan, Go, an event that encourages people to do long-term travel. I won a month-long home stay in Lyon, France in the sponsor raffle. My French family were welcoming and gracious hosts. I'm deeply thankful to them for opening their home and giving me a glimpse of everyday life in France.
Part of the fun of travel is new languages. I'm a language nerd too- I majored in in Latin and Ancient Greek (archaic syntax - great training for a software career), with a couple semesters of Japanese for variety. I learned a little Cambodian in Siem Reap, but with my terrible accent, it was more useful for entertainment than communication. I learned some French at the local Alliance Française before going to Lyon. French was much easier, with the head start from Latin, and I've gotten farther with it than any other language.
Career Break Secrets also has good articles on planning a break.
Volountourism is a tricky business. Our good intentions can cause harm by undercutting local businesses or encourage unhealthy practices that we wouldn't allow in our own communities. It's difficult to tell from a distance whether an organization is on the level.
Here are some tools to help you make the best choice.
Pepy Ride publishes two excellent guides for choosing a responsible
Learning Service: Learning Before Helping is a set of guidelines for choosing a responsible placement for volunteers, voluntourists, development workers, service learners, and you.
- ConCERT has a list of questions to help you evaluate organizations.
Learning Service: A Volunteer's Charter
helps volunteers to "maximize the positive impact your experience can have on yourself, the group you are working with, and the world".