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If you decide to study abroad in the U.S., you’ll likely have to complete a certain number of hours doing an internship. While internships provide valuable job experience, you should also consider volunteering in your spare time. Volunteering also offers job experience, but you’ll gain the opportunity to benefit the community or a cause that’s meaningful to you. The following are examples of volunteer opportunities available in the United States.

If you’re interested in medicine

There are a number of programs that offer volunteer opportunities for those interested in nursing or becoming a doctor. The Honor Society of Nursing lists dozens of volunteer organizations that provide opportunities for international medical help, including opportunities in the United States. Volunteers have the chance to practice medicine in real-life situations while helping those who have been affected by illness or injury.

If you’re interested in veterinary medicine

Animal lovers agree that there’s no higher calling than providing aid to animals in need. Luckily, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities in the U.S. for students interested in veterinary medicine. Organizations like World Vets and Veterinarians Without Borders provide students with experience practicing veterinary medicine, sometimes aiding in surgeries, prepping animals and instruments for procedures and helping animals recover after treatment.

If you’re interested in teaching

Those interested in teaching can take advantage of tutoring opportunities at the college they’re attending or at local area schools. Ask your guidance counselor if there are any classes teaching your native language and offer to tutor students in the class for a semester or two. Not only will you improve their ability to speak your language, but you’ll inevitably improve your English as well.

Issues to be aware of

Although you have good intentions when pursuing volunteer opportunities, the U.S. has strict immigration and labor laws, and you don’t want to accidentally violate them. Keep these rules in mind when seeking a volunteer position:

  • Don’t perform free work that would otherwise be a paid position
  • Don’t accept a volunteer position with job expectations or guaranteed advancement or employment
  • Don’t accept a volunteer position if you are pressured to do so

Research the position or organization you’re considering volunteering for before committing your time. Doing so helps you prevent getting in trouble with the U.S. government, and possibly being taken advantage of.

The benefits of volunteering

If you’re still skeptical about volunteering being beneficial, consider these points: Volunteerism gives you real-life job experience like an internship, but with the added bonus of knowing you helped people in the community as well. Volunteering looks good on a résumé, too, and potential employers favor those with volunteer experience.

Volunteering can also be beneficial when applying for scholarships, since a lot of organizations offering scholarships look for candidates with extracurricular activities. For more information on volunteering — and work in general — in the U.S., as well as obtaining financial aid as an international student, download the ebook “Passport to American Education” by HCC Medical.

Final considerations

Sure, an internship offers valuable professional and personal growth, but volunteering gives you the chance to contribute to a good cause and help others. There are plenty of volunteer organizations and opportunities you can take advantage of while studying in the U.S. — the hardest part is deciding where to serve.