What I’ve Learned After Volunteering in 3 Different Countries
by Simone Wong
Depending on where you live and how your environment is like, your experience in volunteering can vary in many ways – resources, attitudes, causes, impact…and so on. In today’s post I’d love to quickly share with you several differences I’ve noticed during my time volunteering in 3 very different places: Hong Kong, UK, Denmark.
Volunteering in Hong Kong
Hong Kong may be known as a dynamic and cosmopolitan city – yet a lot of its social issues are often overlooked. People work hard and over office hours. Whilst it’s crowned the world’s most competitive economy, it also means a lot of stress is built from work dissatisfaction and poor work-life balance. Problems such as social stratification is further worsened by consumer culture and a huge focus on the city’s economic growth.
I mentioned in the previous post that volunteering has helped me reconnect with my hometown – it allows me to gain a well-rounded insight to lives of communities and social groups that I missed a chance to interact with during my time abroad.
Moreover, people’s willingness and opinions on volunteering can tell you a lot about the city. In such a fast-paced environment like Hong Kong, I find people’s attitudes towards the topic to be quite polarised. I know many see it as ‘a waste of time’ (when they rather be resting during their free time: why the extra work?).
But some also see volunteering as an active reminder that not everything in life is about monetary reward! In fact, you’re missing the point if you only expect immediate and visible outcome from volunteering.
Some of my most memorable experiences: working with TeenAIDS as an event runner and ‘educator’ on HIV preventions and ‘mythbusting’ – on a huge cruise ship that sails around the world and dock in multiple cities! ⛵ And looking back, I’m really glad to have worked with Fair Trade Foundation in their exhibitions and stores. Without stepping outside of my comfort zone, at the age of 14 I would have never been aware of issues like third world exploitation otherwise.
Volunteering in UK
I also had a few experiences during my stay in the UK. As a student, I made use of university fairs that connect students with societies and non-profit organisations.
With a population of 50,000, the cozy university town I lived in was way smaller than Berlin or Munich – this means with local and small-scale organisations, you probably won’t find yourself participating in the most influential (or societally impactful) activities. However, this also taught me that there’s no need to actively consider if an event is ‘worthwhile’. In my case, I’ve really enjoyed simple activities like pet-walking, and taking care of children at the local crèche, because they help to bridge the missing, and much needed interaction between university students and local residents.
I also found micro volunteering to be a popular choice for busy students – for example contributing to projects that look for real-life data, donating, or simply spreading the word online for charities you support. At the end of the day, there’s always a way to do something good that will suit your lifestyle.
Volunteering in Denmark
Denmark has always been known as the happiest country in the world. My time in Copenhagen has definitely lived up to this bold claim – this is thanks to its great welfare system, and work-life balance being an important part of Danish culture.
In fact, I was surprised by how many events and non-profit organisations I volunteered in were municipally supported: this included a career fair for international (non-Danish speaking) students to connect with European start-ups, a creative Christmas market where visitors can make DIY presents using recycled and waste materials…. with the government’s support, there’s also more resources for organisations to attract helpers (such as freebies, covering their expenses).
I was grateful to be part of so many innovative and meaningful events that encourage social integration, sparks conversation on new ideas, and are often family friendly. Online platforms (such as CPHVolunteers, that is owned and subsidised by Copenhagen Kommune!) also made it extremely easy for expats to be an active part of the city.
During my time in Denmark I was also remotely working as social media coordinator for a global event to advocate mental wellness. With a small team of <10 people and countless video call meetings across 5 months, we managed to host parades in over 75 cities as a celebration of happiness and social inclusiveness ?
The Final Wrap-up….
How is it like to volunteer in where you live? No matter the size of the city, the lifestyle, or the impact you have on the community… I hope my experiences have proven that there’s always a way do something good – and it’s up to you to define and offer the value to your volunteering experiences. 🙂
Simone is a 22 y.o. from Hong Kong studying masters in Copenhagen and now interning in Berlin. Several things she enjoys: ☕, rambling on her blog & Instagram, getting lost in Berlin and the serendipity of meeting new people.