Here’s why the International Citizen Service will be the best time of your life

You don’t even need to be on a ‘gap yah’

ics travel volunteer

ICS – three little letters most of us have only seen on Facebook ads between puppy videos and holiday pictures of people we don’t quite remember. The adverts were probably accompanied by a picture of someone digging a ditch in a fetching slogan t-shirt, or a community gathering in a developing country full of wide smiles and posters. And, let’s be honest, you probably scrolled right past them to those puppy videos.

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And why wouldn’t you? ICS is just another volunteering scheme for people on gap years with too much time and too much money, right? International Citizenship Service is different. In times where expensive voluntourism packages are increasingly in vogue, ICS offers government-funded and genuinely sustainable international volunteering programmes for 18-25 year olds, aimed not only at equipping young people with skills needed in the workplace, but also at making a tangible and lasting impact in developing communities worldwide. Here are just four of the many reasons that make ICS a truly worthwhile experience, and one you certainly will not regret:
Fall in love with a new part of the world you might not know about otherwise

ICS isn’t a holiday. You will probably be staying with a host family in conditions far removed from those in the UK. However, you will gain a newfound respect for how other people live, different cultures, languages and scenery. ICS has projects in 21 different countries across 3 continents, from Bangladesh to Zambia, Nicaragua to Senegal. Each placement lasts 10-12 weeks, you have the time to really get know the community you’re working in and, trust me, you won’t want to leave when the project comes to an end.

You get to work on meaningful projects

ICS works with eight partner charities, each with years of knowledge and experience working on some of the world’s most challenging development issues. Whether you want to work on projects supporting local enterprise, improve justice systems or assist on infrastructure projects, there will be something for you. Throughout the projects, you benefit from the constant support and guidance of team leaders and the charity itself. Not only does this make the projects impactful, but it also means you are equipped with skills and experiences that may prove invaluable in the job market.

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You won’t break the bank

Travelling is expensive but voluntourism can be something else. The industry is worth a staggering $2 billion worldwide and a short expedition can put a dent in even the deepest of pockets. Luckily, ICS is not-for-profit and 90% of costs are covered by the government. Although most volunteers are expected to raise £800, it really isn’t much when compared to the £7200 of government funding behind each placement. This vast investment means that you can have a truly unforgettable experience without having to stretch the limits of your overdraft.

You'll meet the best people ever

Meeting new people is arguably the best thing about ICS. Not only do you get to work with other British volunteers, but you also work with local volunteers, often from the very community you are in. In addition, you are usually placed with a local host family meaning that, for three months, you get new brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts from a completely different part of the world.

Completing your International Citizenship Service, however, is rarely easy. Travelling alone to spend three months in a completely new environment is challenging, not to mention the stark difference in living conditions. These may involve having no flushing loos, limited electricity and exposure to rare illnesses.

Despite the inevitable difficulties of an ICS project, it is a truly rewarding and unforgettable experience. I’ll never forget the work we did during my ICS placement with Raleigh International in Nicaragua, or the generosity and kindness of the people I met along the way. So, if you have three months of your life to spare and the motivation and determination to make a difference, do consider ICS. You could make a real positive change in a place you’d never otherwise go and, believe me, it might just make an even larger positive change to you. More info about destinations can be found on the government Travel Aware and Travel Advice pages.