Do you dream of treating malnutrition in children in other countries or working to ensure good nutrition practices are maintained even in difficult settings such as refugee camps? Do you yearn to use your expertise to improve the health status of underprivileged populations?
The need is tremendous. According to UNICEF, 3 million children a year die from undernutrition and related conditions. Most of these cases occur in the developing world.
Working internationally as a dietitian can be incredibly exciting and fulfilling. Even if it’s not your career goal, there are numerous ways to share your nutrition expertise on short-term volunteer assignments abroad.
What Kind of International Commitment Are You Looking For?
The humanitarian or development setting isn’t a traditional career path for RDNs, so figuring out how to break into this field can seem a bit daunting. Having some prior international experience, a master’s degree and proficiency in a foreign language (the most sought-after language is, arguably, French) will make you a competitive candidate. If you don’t speak a foreign language, it’s never too late to start learning. Try evening classes or short immersion programs.
Volunteer opportunities can be as short as a couple of weeks or months, or as long as a year or more. For a longer commitment to international volunteering, the Peace Corps is a common path. But if that sounds like too big of a commitment, look for organizations that connect volunteers with grassroots organizations around the globe. Be aware, though, that most of these programs charge a fee to place volunteers. While this may come as a surprise to first-timers, it’s important to realize that organizers expend a lot of resources setting up volunteer experiences. From safety considerations to lodging arrangements to other logistical issues, this is a big undertaking for the host organization as well as volunteers.
No matter how long you plan to stay, in order to really acclimate to a new environment and to feel like you’ve truly made an impact, take time before leaving to learn about where you’re going and the nuances of the culture that influence health and nutrition.
Working and volunteering abroad is a wonderful way to use your skills to make an impact in a rewarding, exciting and challenging way. You’ll make friends and connections you never would have imagined, you’ll see places that many people don’t have the chance to visit and, most importantly, you’ll make a tangible difference in the lives of many people.