If you’re studying abroad, chances are that you want to immerse yourself in the culture of the place you’re living in. I felt this way and wanted to really immerse myself, so I chose to volunteer while abroad. It truly made my experience unforgettable.

Volunteer Opportunities at University of Otago

If you are studying at the University of Otago, the first place I would check out is the University Volunteer Centre and the UniCrew roles. I really wanted to volunteer with animals, so I reached out to them and they emailed me back with six potential places that matched my interest and had already hosted other university students.

I ended up choosing the New Zealand Riding for the Disabled and loved every second of it. They were very flexible and found tasks that suited my skills and interests. I volunteered weekly helping with the therapy sessions (about 30 hours across the semester). If you love horses or are passionate about working with people with disabilities, I highly recommend checking this place out.

Student brushing a horse

Another great way to volunteer is through the clubs and organizations at university. The Otago University Student Association has a club fair during the first week of school, where you get to meet all of the cool student organizations on campus. Many of them have volunteer trips associated with their club.

Group shot of students from The Otago University Animals, Aquatic, Plants, Ecological Society on Quarantine Island
The Otago University Animals, Aquatic, Plants, Ecological Society on Quarantine Island

I joined the Otago University Animals, Aquatic, Plants, Ecological Society and did a day trip to Quarantine Island with them to remove invasive species. I got to help out the local landscape while also meeting fellow university students and getting to see a new part of the city.

“This was taken on my lunch break during my volunteer day at Quarantine Island, where I helped to remove invasive species and track lizard populations on the island!” | Marissa Cobuzio

Other Volunteer Opportunities in New Zealand

If you are studying abroad in New Zealand at another University – check out New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) because they have loads of opportunities to volunteer all over the country.

I spent a week in The Catlins on a yellow-eyed penguin-tracking project. This was a wonderful way to see the countryside, meet Kiwis, and interact first-hand and respectfully with some of New Zealand’s most famous wildlife.

Yellow tail penguin sitting on a nest
“Our job was to find the nests and record its GPS location and the number of eggs in the nest. This is one of the first penguins I came across. It was pretty cool to learn about and interact with one of New Zealand’s famous species!” | Marissa Cobuzio

If animals aren’t your passion, the DOC has plenty of other volunteer opportunities including helping maintain tramping trails and opportunities to educate the public on conservation. I think volunteering with the DOC is particularly cool because they are responsible for protecting the livelihood of New Zealand residents — of the human, animal and plant kind.

While all these experiences matched my major studies and passion for biology. There was no previous experience required for any of the volunteer work mentioned above. Most of the organizations were looking for dependable people and most of the skills/knowledge needed is taught on the job.

If you take one thing from this blog, it’s that studying abroad is fun, but volunteering abroad will take your experience to the next level. It will provide you with a way to meet locals and give back at the same time. And really, what’s better than that?

Marissa Cobuzio is a TEAN Alum and Biology major at Rollins College. She studied abroad with TEAN in Dunedin at University of Otago.

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