ICS – the best volunteering experience?


Thinking of taking part in ICS? Wondering what ICS is like?

This article is an overview about all aspects of ICS, as told by a past volunteer. If you have any further questions, please contact me!


What is ICS?

ICS stands for International Citizens Service. It is a volunteering programme based in the UK that provides placements in overseas countries for young European citizens.

Being partly funded by the UK government, ICS does not require payment for the volunteering experience. Instead, volunteers are asked to fundraise a set amount prior to the beginning of their placement.

Placements typically last between 10-12 weeks. During this time, volunteers will live with a host family in the country of their placement.

fruit vendors sitting by the roadside with mountainous background
On placement in Tanzania


Who can apply for ICS?

ICS placements are open to young people from the UK or EU/EEA countries. Basic volunteer roles are open to 18-25 year olds, whilst team-leader roles are open to young people aged 23-35.

Unsure if you’re eligible? Visit the ICS website to find out more.


What to expect from ICS


Application process

Applying to be an ICS volunteer is a rigorous process. After a lengthy online application, successful candidates will be invited to an assessment day. This is a chance for the programme organisers to get a feel for your personality more than anything. It’s certainly not intimidating in the same way that job interviews can be. Once you’ve passed the assessment day, it’s time for training and fundraising before leaving for your placement!

My own experience with ICS: I spent a long time perfecting my online application. I guess it paid off as I got myself onto an assessment day in London. Usually I’m quite a reserved and quiet person, but at the assessment day I made sure to engage in all activities, offer my opinions and debate anything I disagreed with. I was then accepted onto a placement in Tanzania and tasked with fundraising before our training began.

Host family

While on placement, all volunteers live with a host family. This is one of the best parts – being able to fully immerse yourself into the local life and culture. Living conditions are not quite up to western standards but are far from being classed as impoverished. Just be prepared to rough it for a few weeks! Each host house will vary greatly – some will have running water and electricity while others won’t.

My own experience with ICS: I was lucky enough to live with a host family that had electricity. This meant that we could play card games once it got dark and even read a book before bed. We had running water too (not for drinking though). After a few weeks I learnt how to ask for hot water in Swahili – I could then take a warm bucket shower (instead of debating between a cold bucket shower or going smelly for an extra day!). My host family would boil me a small pan of water over the fire which I’d then decant into a bucket of cold water; I’ll remember those showers forever!

people standing in front of a house
My host family and their 2 houses! (current one and on they were building)
The food

This could be a sensitive subject for many. Here in the UK, we have hundreds of different cuisines and types of food readily available to us, 24/7. Because of this huge choice, we rarely get bored of eating the same thing. However, this is very much a struggle at the forefront of ICS placements – at least, it is if you take food as seriously as I do. As many of the communities that ICS visits are relatively poor, choice is pretty limited. In fact, you’ll quite often end up eating the same thing everyday – if not twice a day! Which is great if you like whatever that food is…but not so great if you don’t. There’s only so much plantain/yam/rice you can eat before you start to feel like one!

My own experience with ICS: my placement was in Tanzania. Tanzanian food consists largely of rice, beans, plantain and ugali (a thick starchy cornmeal porridge). Days of rice, beans or fried plantain were great! Unfortunately, we had a few too many days of ugali and boiled plantain; luckily these were offset by the occasional creamy avocado or juicy pineapple!

people mixing ingredients in large bowls
Making mandazi – a donut-like fried treat!
Various projects

ICS works with many different charities in multiple different countries. The tasks and day-to-day activities of your placement will largely depend on which charity and country you are placed in. The project’s focus could be on supporting local businesses, helping more children into schools, creating fairer working conditions or educating farmers about sustainable agriculture.

My own experience with ICS: I took part in the pilot programme called ICSE (International Citizens Service Entrepreneur), which I now believe has been incorporated into the basic ICS programme. The main way that it differed was the focus on entrepreneurship and teaching of business skills. I had a fantastic 10 weeks volunteering in a Tanzanian village located in the middle of a banana plantation. We taught basic business knowledge to local dairy farmers in the hope that they could create a sustainable income. The biggest success was one entrepreneur who introduced milkshakes to the village and is now looking to branch out.

man sitting on his motorbike reading
A local reading about our project


Ready to apply? Visit the ICS website here.


Why take part in ICS?


It’s free*!

(*requires fundraising) While many volunteering organisations require a significant payment in exchange for a short voluntary placement, ICS takes a different approach. ICS is 90% funded by the UK goverment; the other 10% comes from volunteer fundraising – an activity which is supported and guided by the ICS team.

Make an impact

The ICS projects are usually quite well established. This, coupled with the 10-12 week placement duration, allows volunteers enough time to really get to know a community and make a lasting difference.

Make lifelong friends

You’ll meet heaps of like-minded individuals throughout your ICS experience. Some of those might only be short friendships whereas others can last a lifetime. I mean, after working alongside the same small group of people everyday for 10 weeks, you’re going to know them pretty well!

Experience of a lifetime

You can only take part in ICS once, so make it count! Plus, it’s one of those things that really is a once in a lifetime experience. The chance to live in a foreign country for 3 months, integrate into the local community, try new food, learn new skills, leave a legacy…how often does that opportunity come around?

group of people wearing handmade birthday hats
Celebrating a birthday on placement




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