How Schools Can Make Volunteering an International Currency

“Almost 50% of our volunteers decided to study language with us after applying to volunteer with us”

The number of people travelling internationally per year has more than doubled since 1996. If you’re in international education, you’re probably well aware of this reality- and it’s likely benefited your institution greatly. But the questions is: are you truly leveraging the potential of this influx of travellers?

I work at a language school located in a tourist hotspot in China. Founding our English school here was a originally a clever idea because the beautiful surrounding environment has proven to be just as attractive to students as is the quality of our English courses. Later, we opened a Chinese school next door for internationals learning Chinese. As most of these Chinese learners were native English speakers, it created a wonderful language exchange environment for both our English learners and Chinese learners.


But there was still one area in which we hadn’t yet optimised: we weren’t leveraging the thousands of travellers who weren’t searching for a language learning centre.

We found these travellers often have 2 things:

  1. Limited travel budgets

A tourist’s budget will often be burdened by accommodation and meal expenses. As a school, we were able to utilise our dorms and our cafeteria to meet their needs, with little cost to us.

  1. Skills we can use

Most of these travellers were English speakers, and some even with English teaching experience. We were in need of language partners, tutors, and teachers for our English school.

We decided to create a volunteer program and promote it online, offering free accommodation and meals for travellers in China. Before long, we were receiving 2-3 volunteer requests per day. Not only had we found volunteers to help meet the needs of our school, but we were also creating awareness of our institution for people who never would have known about us otherwise. Almost 50% of our volunteers decided to study language with us after applying to volunteer with us.

“Don’t let tourists pass you by simply because they haven’t come to study”

The volunteer program also allows us to promote ourselves on online platforms that were previously unrelated to us. Thousands of travellers are registered on international “travel + volunteer” websites like Workaway and Worldpackers, where we have an active profile and acquire reviews from our visitors. International education websites like GoAbroad and GoOverseas now also have “volunteer opportunities” sections of their website and allow hosts to create a profile.

So how can you optimize your institution to create rewarding exchanges with travellers?

  1. What can you offer?
  • Accommodation
  • Meals
  • Community
  • Classes
  • Translation help
  • Visa assistance
  • Travel recommendations
  • Group Activities
  1. What can travellers offer you?
  • Language exchange
  • Substitute teaching
  • Marketing assistance
  • Blog writing
  • Website translation
  • Youtube channel promotion
  • Research survey participation
  • Photography/Video production
  • Landscaping work


Don’t let tourists pass you by simply because they haven’t come to study. By making volunteering your international currency, you can both expand your reach and meet the needs of your school, all at minimal cost. And if you’re currently surveying where to open a new school, your nearby travel destination might be the first place to look.

About the author: Lance Devore has lived in China for 4 years and now works as the marketing manager for Omeida Chinese Academy in Yangshuo, China.