A (Free) Alternative to Studying Abroad: The Voluntary Social Year in Germany


  • Birgit A. Jensen Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures East Carolina University


Many American college students cannot afford to study abroad at a time of their life when an immersion experience in a foreign country would benefit them the most. This article discusses the opportunity to live and volunteer in Germany or Austria on a modest, but adequate monthly stipend through the Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr or Voluntary Social Year. A parallel program called Ökologisches Freiwilliges Jahr, concentrates on ecological volunteering. Volunteers can choose from a wide range of possible activities, expanding their international and professional expertise. In addition, these programs represent alternative paths to academic education, offering volunteers 25 weekend seminars per year designed to enrich them intellectually and socially.  Because Germany is experiencing a shortage of volunteers, foreign volunteers are very welcome there. On average, 97,000 young men have spent their time annually in the German military during the last decade of the compulsory draft (2001-2011) with a year of civil service. By 2015, however, fewer than 39,000 volunteers worked in civil service, leaving approximately 58,000 of previously staffed volunteer spots vacant each year. This article outlines how a college graduate may obtain a volunteer position in Germany.