This guide gives an in-depth look at every aspect of getting, preparing for, and actually doing an international project. It is based on our own personal experiences, and the valuable advice we have received from other volunteers and advisors.

But before we jump into the mechanics of international projects, we've found that it is valuable to stop and think about the “why” that draws us to these projects.

People have many good reasons to seek out a project in a far-off land. You might want to “give back,” to explore another culture, to support a religious cause, to participate in scientific research, to work on a project with another family member, or to open the door to the possibility of a long-term international career. However, it is important to look beyond the motivations that drive you to seek out these projects and evaluate your core beliefs.

Are you a firm believer in capitalism? What role do you believe religion plays in improving people's lives? Do you believe more in the ability of governments or that of private enterprise to raise the standard of living? What size companies do you think are best for improving an economy — small, mid-sized, or large? In you beliefs, is it better to feed people directly, or teach them to farm for themselves?

A friend once described going on his first international project as an “intentional shock.” You step outside the well-established “script” that you have developed in the early part of your life. The act of stepping outside that script is scary, but opens up a new set of possibilities. Once outside your familiar world, there is very little baggage to bog you down. You carry your experience, which fuels the project, along with your personality, which makes the project “click.” But you also carry your core beliefs. An international project is an ideal way to put those beliefs into action exactly the way that suits your philosophy.

We met an Italian businessman on a long flight across Africa. His profession was in the printing industry, and he now donated his time visiting private printing companies in developing countries. He helped printing-company owners negotiate the purchase of low-cost presses, trained them in printing methods, and advised them on efficiency and quality issues. When we asked him about his motivation, his answer was immediate: “Free press. I believe a free press is critical to a society. Lots of these governments give lip service to free press, but really put pressure on the large printers in the country to only print ‘acceptable’ material. I only support the small printers - the ones who are typically beyond government reach and can print the controversial stuff.”

On our first project, we didn't think much about our core beliefs. Then someone commented that we were “working for free, but serving a for-profit company.” They asked if this was a paradox for us. But we have a strong belief that small enterprise and capitalism can offer powerful long-term benefits to society as a whole.

As you undertake your first project, you begin to view your work in a larger context: as a vehicle for social change or as an extension of your core beliefs. The initial motivations that got you involved in the project take a back seat to these larger issues. The “shock” of intentionally stepping outside your well-worn script lets you see your place in the world, your own culture, and your home country in a new light. It opens the door to the possibility for amazing personal growth, regardless of your age.


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