You are right – there are many, many organizations with which you can go abroad. Most have very good intentions and generally do a good job. Don’t ever go abroad expecting a perfect experience; a big part of life abroad is about adapting to unforeseen situations and dealing with uncertainty. Volunteer-sending agencies offer varying levels of service, some being geared more towards the "voluntourist" experience, while others are more geared towards the participants getting their hands dirty. If you are risk tolerant (i.e. if you like adventure and are highly adaptable), the cheapest way to go abroad is to organize your own tour and backpack your way through the experience. If you are less risk tolerant, you can choose an organization that charges higher fees and they will take care of everything (or almost everything) in highly scheduled package. You have lots of organizations to choose from, and they each have a different formula and a different objective. Check out the many resources listed in International Volunteer Opportunities (for registered users).
One low-risk alternative to the volunteer experience for those who have limited time (and funds) is to go abroad in order to learn a second language. If you choose Latin America, the costs are low, and you can combine your trip with travel. Also consider studying abroad for one semester (this too is low-risk), and extend the study abroad tour with a second experience (before or after study abroad session) to backpack, learn the native language, volunteer or intern.
Hope this all helps. Cheers for now,
I was thinking of volunteering abroad this summer and would like to know which organizations you suggest. I was thinking of going for around four or five weeks. I have been looking online and there are tons of places go and things to do, but I'm kind of skeptical about a lot of the organizations. It is hard to tell if the organizations are interested in the people they are helping or just expanding their organization.
-Martin, 18, Vancouver, British Columbia