I recently posted an article in which I attempted to categorize expats into groups. This is not easy, as many – if not most – expats live overseas for reasons that include multiple categories, but I thought it was worth a try. Over the next few days, I will elaborate on some of the categories I included in that initial post, beginning with:
Many people choose to live a life outside the boundaries of their native countries because they want to immerse themselves in another culture, or because they want to bring their culture to a foreign land. I divided the cultural expats into the broad classifications of missionaries and students.
Missionaries include religious missionaries, of course, those who move to another country because they want to convert its people into believers in a particular religion. They invariably believe they are doing a good thing, and are generally much more interested in bringing their culture to another people than in learning about the culture of those they are living among. To put it in business terms, the goal of religious missionaries is to export their own culture.
There are also non-religious missionaries, including volunteers of all stripes: Peace Corps, Doctors without Borders, Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity and Oxfam are just a few. These missionaries are less interested in exporting their own culture than they are in improving the lives of others in very practical ways. Some volunteer organizations also promote social or political ideals – the Church of the Brethren and the Society of Friends include working for peace and justice among the goals of their projects. Volunteerism abroad can encompass education, the environment, health, construction, and lots more.
So who are the folks who are volunteering to go abroad to work toward improving ecosystems, health, infrastructure or education of the local people? More than ever before they are older, over 50. According to a recent CNN article, Peace Corps applications from those over 50 have spiked 44 percent.
Volunteers come from all sorts of backgrounds. They are IT professionals, doctors, nurses, economists, recent graduates, senior citizens, teachers, researchers, marketing and PR professionals, engineers and fishing experts.
If you’re interested in an international volunteering experience, Transitions Abroad, Volunteer Visions and Idealist have extensive volunteerism resources.