Online seminar for volunteering at Europe's (external) borders


4. Before you take off

This unit serves as an orientation for the last weeks or days before your departure. In the first part, you will be encouraged to reflect on your expectations, which in our experience is valuable for your personal preparation and, later on, for the follow-up. In the second part, we will give you some final practical tips for your preparation.

Letter to yourself

We suggest to write a letter to yourself that no one but you should read. In this letter you can honestly answer (some of) the questions below - or any other questions that might concern you - in order to sort out some thoughts and reflect on your expectations, potential worries and hopes. After you have written the letter, keep it in a safe place at home or maybe give it to someone you trust. After you return, you can read the letter again. From our experience, this can really help to reflect on your personal development and learning processes over the time, but most importantly to contextualise ideas you had before leaving in reality. Reading the letter is usually an interesting and valuable experience.

  • Why do I want to volunteer in this context?
  • Why did I choose this project?
  • What do I hope to contribute to this project?
  • What do I maybe want to learn?
  • What expectations do I have of my tasks and the work in the project?
  • What would I like to achieve?
  • What aspects am I looking forward to?
  • What do I expect from the people I will meet?
  • What kind of living & working conditions do I expect in the project?
  • What worries and fears do I have?
  • What are my hopes?

Packing tips and final preparation

Shortly before you take off - if you have not already done so - get in touch with your partner organisation on the ground to make sure you have access to all existing requirements and expectations regarding your arrival.

Most organisations will send you some pre-arrival material with important and essential information about the working conditions on site and project processes for volunteers as soon as you decide to work with them. It is usually expected that you take a thorough look through this information on your own, so that it can be quickly followed up on the ground and you can start working.

As the work on the ground is often very time-consuming and sometimes a bit difficult to plan ahead, it can sometimes be difficult to reach the coordinators in advance from our experience. Therefore, try to get all the important information about the material you have been offered because they usually answer many questions and the rest is usually clarified once you get there.

Three basic reminders

  • When working with children and minors, a police clearance certificate or comparable proof is usually requested - due to administration processes, take care of this in good time ahead.
  • When planning your trip, find out whether there is a favoured time or day for your arrival in the project, in case you need to be picked up from the bus / train station, etc. In rural areas there is usually limited public transport, so you might have to check the timetables. Also check if there is need for advanced bookings for transport.
  • In any case, remember to check necessary papers (identification documents, visa, health insurance certificate etc. for validity in the destination country) and if you need to apply for documents. In case that driving is part of your job, check in advance whether an international driver's license is required and apply for it in good time.

Regarding the packing list, we can only give you a few general tips, as the projects are quite different in regard to what you might need.

  • Find out in advance if there is need for in-kind donations on site, which you could organise and bring with you from home with less effort. You travel anyway - you might as well bring stuff that would usually be transported otherwise.
  • If you are moving into shared volunteer accommodation, find out if you need to bring sleeping bag, towels etc. or if they are available on site.
  • Remember to mainly pack practical work clothes (e.g. good shoes, waterproof clothes, etc.).
  • Many organisations also have a culturally sensitive dress code during working hours, which usually applies to all volunteers and should be followed under all circumstances to avoid conflicts or inconveniences (also within the teams). Therefore, make sure to pack clothes that cover shoulders and knees also during the summer and check with your organisation for further regulations.
  • It is best to speak directly to your practitioner if you have any questions about travel medicine or necessary vaccinations etc. Please check with your health insurance company whether your insurance is valid abroad (especially in case you leave the EU).
  • In terms of sustainability of your stay: Please consider the recommended self-care strategies (unit 8) and, if necessary, take some utensils for your leisure activities and relaxation strategies (e.g. sportswear, favourite tea, diary etc.).
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