Happy Volunteering!

Volunteered to clean the area after 4th of July Celebration, 2009. Photo Credit: Author

As an international student who was rather shy (although ‘shy’ is, of course, subjective), I found volunteering to be one positive way to meet new people and to expand our knowledge about working with the locals in our area. Actually, I could also share about how having fun and mingling to be the most effective way to make friends, but let’s try to be serious a bit here, shall we. Now sit down and let me tell you about the finer things in the life of international students: volunteering.

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, volunteer is a person who does work without getting paid to do it. In my own language, volunteering is the answer for international students such as my self at the time, to escape the house to go out do something since you are very extroverted, you like meeting new people, you want to see the world, yet at the same time, you have some concern about getting broke if all you do is hanging out. Volunteering is also a great way to experience first hand how it feels to kind of “work” overseas. You’ll get the hang of it. Here in America, even though you’re ‘just’ a volunteer (unpaid), you still have to show up on time, you’ll still have a boss (‘volunteer coordinator’) and you still have to let your ‘boss’ know if you for some reason cannot show up in the day where you’re supposed to be volunteering. It has been the same way ever since I was a student at Madison College.

There are so many volunteer opportunities here in the States, whether you are a student or you just want to get plugged in in a community you’re at. You just need to be actively searching for one that suits you. Of course, employers would be happy to have free human resource that can work at no cost. But what’s in it for you?

My motivation to volunteer changed according to my phase of life. When I was a student, my motivation would be to hang out meeting other people apart from the international students group that I was with. I am naturally very active physically so sitting at home watching TV is never something I enjoy doing. The maximum amount of time I can spend sitting and checking my social media on my phone would be 15 minutes top, then pretty sure I’ll get bored. No, it’s not ADHD. I just like to be outside as much as possible. Volunteering was my way to meet Americans and to experience America. My scholarship program put me in an apartment with other international students. We were automatically attached to each other. They were very nice friends, I respect them dearly, but they were my comfort zone. I also notice this with Indonesian students: we would naturally try to find another Indonesians in that city and we have a tendency to hang out just with other Indonesians. Nothing’s wrong with that. But if you go to the States and only want to be friends and hang out with people from your country, you may as well stay in your country. We need balance. As for me, I wanted to expand my horizon. When I was a student, I volunteered at Madison College’s Alumni Foundation. I was at the media department. My “work” including designing the alumni’s website, creating image rotation for the website, getting video footage from any alumni’s fundraising event, to accompanying my boss to play golf at a country club. I had so much fun, made many American friends and at the end of my service period, I received an award.

Above & Beyond Award, 2010
Photo Credit: Author.

Now that I am not a student anymore and more mature (marriage does that to someone), my motivation on volunteering would be to have a professional reference. I am an immigrant through marriage. Man oh man. Let me tell you this, my friend: you can have all kinds of fancy job in Indonesia but once you become an immigrant, be it winning Green Card lottery or through marriage like myself, you are starting over. All of your experience is out the window. You need to build up your credential from the bottom again. Having a professional reference is very important for the employer when you are trying to apply for a job. Most of the employers want the reference to be within the States, not your old company in Indonesia. They want someone American they can call and ask about your work ethic. This is where volunteering plays an important role. Sell your skill free first, then after a few months of volunteering, ask your volunteer coordinator if they want to be your reference because you are looking for a job. Don’t forget to put your smiley innocent face forward. Get your boss some donuts, too, when you make this type of request. For over a year until present, I have been volunteering at Food Bank in Lexington, Kentucky. Yes, my boss agrees to be my professional reference. No, I didn’t actually get her donuts. Just the smiley innocent face anyone can fall for.

Please note that any type of volunteering you’ve done, whether you’re a student or an immigrant, is worth putting in your resume/CV.

Whatever your motivation is when you decide to volunteer, at the end of the day, volunteering always does more to you than to the organization. It’s that sense when you wake up in the morning knowing that today, someone somewhere could use your time, energy, ideas, or compassion. It is knowing that you are useful and your life matter. Most of the time it awakens the humanity in you.

Now I wish you a happy volunteer and do volunteer happily!

Collecting trash was one of my volunteer duties.

Content edited by Artricia Rasyid

Photo Credits: Author’s Collection

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Kitty Sitompul-Nieman is an award winning intercultural professional with a blend of experiences in teaching, writing, interpreting, and public speaking in international and diverse platforms. A Fulbright scholarship grantee for the Community College International Development program, Kitty has eight years of experience in English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching and management, as well as three years experience in Indonesian-English consecutive and simultaneous interpretation. She currently lives in Lexington, Kentucky, USA with her husband, Clay Nieman. They both enjoy hanging out at Buffalo Wild Wings. More of her writings can be found at her personal blog www.KittySitompul.wordpress.com.


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