Quick-Takes: Voluntourism

As colleges are considering different criteria for admissions, debates have centered around the merit of community service and test scores. Some deem volunteer requirements as “Voluntourism”.

Voluntourism Creates Artificial Sense of Philanthropy in Students

Competition for college admission has become incredibly difficult. More and more, students are looking for those little edges that will distinguish them from the crowd of high-achieving applicants, and lately, that edge has come in the form of voluntourism: volunteering while travelling abroad. But in recent years, a wide range of organizations have appeared to cater to the commercialized demand of privileged first-world inhabitants for the “life-changing” experience of “saving” third-world inhabitants. While the altruism and dedication of students to global causes is hard to criticize, voluntourism is not a good method for showcasing a student’s involvement in a community.

One of the biggest problems with voluntourism, besides the assumed economic privilege of participants who can fly off to Somalia for a week to hug orphans, is whether it is even effective aid. The catering of the voluntourism industry to first-world volunteers’ “savior” complex hinders actual efforts to alleviate poverty. As a blogger for the Huffington Post wrote, during her school trip to Africa to build a library for an orphanage, the work of the unskilled volunteers was taken apart each evening and redone by local laborers without their knowledge. Similarly, voluntourism fosters an incomplete understanding of global issues in favor of simplistic imaginings of the suffering of the poor “other,” as was explained in an Al Jazeera America article.

A better gauge of a student’s involvement in the community is local volunteering. In helping at local shelters or building houses for the disadvantaged here, students gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of poverty.

— SOPHIE OSBORN Senior Staff Writer

Volunteer Work Allows Students to Make Useful Global Contributions

Volunteering in another country is an essential step in opening a person’s mind and a critical way in which people broaden their worldview. While it is true that certain people will take a touristy vacation and call it a “volunteering” and “learning” experience, this does not diminish the experiences and uniqueness that genuine international volunteering brings. Students who volunteer abroad are far more valuable to possible employers or colleges. According to statistics from UC Merced, 97 percent of college students who studied abroad found employment within 12 months of graduation compared to 49 percent of students who did not. In addition, the vast majority of travelers undergo exceptional personal development when exposed to an entirely different culture, an important aspect of any well-rounded person.

There are concerns that traveling abroad is not immediately accessible to everyone given their socioeconomic status; however, there is a large number of organizations that provide free travel-abroad opportunities. The Peace Corps, established over 50 years ago, has sent over 220,000 volunteers to more than 140 countries with no personal cost to the volunteer, according to the Peace Corps website. Other programs such as Habitat for Humanity and Amigos de Las Americas also offer no-cost international programs for applicants.

There will always be people who cheat the system to their benefit, but we must focus on the important work that international volunteers accomplish and learn to distinguish between social media “voluntourism” and the achievements that genuine volunteering bring to the world.

— NATE WALKER Staff Writer

Colleges Should Value Test Scores Equally to Community Service

Recently, the Harvard Graduate School of Education project “Making Caring Common” released reports suggesting that high school students should take fewer Advanced Placement courses, colleges should make the SAT/ACT optional and all students should be required to provide “more meaningful contributions to others.” Although well-intentioned, colleges that require mandatory volunteering are promoting pseudo-compassion and self-service, and de-emphasis of standardized tests would not minimize the role of test scores as a criterion for admission.

Requiring volunteer work turns something essential, like fostering citizenship in young adults, into a resume builder — yet another obligation on top of all the activities that students are expected to squeeze into their tight schedules. Colleges need to prioritize the importance of impact, not a noblesse oblige and a list of hours spent in a developing country.

Furthermore, as long as schools continue offering A.P. classes, and SAT/ACT scores are still accepted by colleges, students will continue to take them and perform well. Therefore, all students must meet the same expectation. Those who fall behind are neither competitive applicants nor prepared for the rigor of college classes. In fact, according to the National Association of College Admission Counseling, one-fifth of colleges use test scores as a “threshold” for admission, and, as stated by The Princeton Review, many more use informal cutoffs. A truly equal emphasis on philanthropy and academics would be ideal, but for now, it seems that students must bear the burden of excelling in everything they do, and, of course, having a boisterous social life and eight hours of sleep.

— AARTHI VENKAT Staff Writer