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Volunteer Abroad with Kulturweit or Weltwärts

Every year Germany sends hundreds of young people to volunteer projects around the world and welcomes international volunteers to Germany as a way to promote cross-cultural learning.
by Caitlan Reeg

Germany offers two main international cultural volunteer programs: kulturweit and weltwärts. These programs are designed to give young people the opportunity to volunteer abroad and expand their intercultural understanding.

Kulturweit

The urge to see more of the world while doing some good prompted Tobias Ebbing to apply to the volunteer program kulturweit. As the 23-year-old business student finished his studies at the University of Applied Sciences Münster, he started to look around for opportunities to go abroad before beginning a master's program. He says kulturweit felt like the best fit.

“The program is for people who are open minded and who want to learn and give something while getting much more in return,” he says. “This experience helps you appreciate a whole other world beyond your city.”

Who Can Apply?

Kulturweit is an international volunteer program run by the German Commission for UNESCO in cooperation with the Federal Foreign Office. Since 2009, kulturweit has sent more than 1,700 volunteers to Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Central and Eastern Europe. The program targets German citizens between the ages of 18 and 26 who have at least a high school diploma and an interest in cross-cultural topics. Volunteer placements generally last from six or 12 months. Volunteers receive travel compensation, monthly stipends and organizational support.

Kulturweit placed Tobias at a school in Cajicá, a small city just north of Bogotá, Colombia. Tobias helps out with German language and history classes and tutors a few students headed to Germany on a school exchange. He also gets the chance to play soccer with some of the younger students.

Making Friends and Memories

Tobias says Colombians are really open to meeting new people. He recently went to a bar to watch a soccer game, made friends with the guy sitting next to him and ended up attending his new friend's wedding where he was the only non-Colombian.

“It was an experience I'll never forget,” Tobias says.

Tobias has already been in Cajicá for a few months and he's in no rush for the year to be over. The work at the school is enjoyable, his Spanish skills are improving and he's looking forward to traveling around the country. Tobias originally planned on making his way throughout South America, but now plans on spending all of his time in Colombia.

“The image of Colombia is drugs, corruption and violence, but these are pure prejudices,” he says. “Colombia has plenty to offer; it is so much more.”

Apply to Kulturweit

Those interested in kulturweit can learn more about the program and apply directly through the website.

Weltwärts

Another program for those interested in development topics and cross-cultural experiences is weltwärts. The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) founded weltwärts in 2008 to support intercultural learning. Since then, the program has sent more than 25,000 volunteers from Germany to development projects around the world. Volunteers spend six to 24 months at international partner organizations in the areas of education, health, environment, agriculture, culture and human rights. In 2013, the weltwärts program expanded to also offer foreign applicants placements at charity organizations in Germany.

Who Can Apply?

Applicants in Germany must have a high school degree and be between the ages of 18 and 28. Foreign applicants may apply up to age 29. All applicants should have demonstrated an interest in social topics or the development field and be able to speak at least basic German.

Laura Böhm had already begun a university program in Darmstadt in Integrative Heilpädagogik (inclusive education for people with disabilities), when she decided to stopher studies and go abroad. The 19-year-old says weltwärts appealed to her because of its focus on development policy and the fact that she could receive financial assistance to go abroad—the program offers monthly stipends and covers travel costs.

Deciding on a Volunteer Project

After applying and being invited for an interview, weltwärts organizers gave Laura the choice between two projects in Mexico – one in Oaxaca and one in Mexico City. She decided on an organization in Mexico City that works with migrants and indigenous people. In Germany, Laura had volunteered with young people with disabilities, so the idea of learning about a new area of social work appealed to her.

“At first I worried that Mexico City might be too dangerous but, in the end, I'm really happy with my decision,” she says.

Weltwärts provides seminars to help volunteers adjust. Laura says the pre-travel seminar was really helpful because it not only dealt with basics like how the insurance and stipends work but also went into detail on cultural challenges and thorny topics like racism.

Laura begins her year-long project in August. She will stay with a host family so she can improve her Spanish and get to know the culture better. She's nervous and worried about getting homesick but is optimistic about what awaits her.

“I'm excited about the project but I'm most excited about my new life in Mexico,” she says.

Apply to Weltwärts

Those interested in weltwärts can apply through a number of volunteer agencies. Laura suggests picking a well established one like Experiment.ev or AFS.

by Caitlan Reeg