I’m kind of at the end of a 31-day trip abroad. I’m visiting GeoVisions partners and participants in Spain, Italy and France. I have 7 more days ahead of me … the rest of Italy and Northern France. It has been a great use of my time. I have talked to our Au Pairs in Spain and Italy. Our program, Tutor English To A Family in Spain (and in Italy), have great people on the program now and I’m sure I’ll be equally impressed when I get to France and meet partners and participants there. Tomorrow I’m having lunch with our counselors at the Day Camp Counselor In Italy program in Porto San Elpidio.
It is difficult to deal with so many languages. Just when you get the hang of a language, you move countries. I’ve had the most fun with Italian. And up until today, when I needed an app for some translation, I used iTranslate, which is a FREE app easily attainable on the iTunes App Store. Press the app button, choose the language you need translated and type in something. You can also listen to how to pronounce your new phrase.
For years this app has been a staple of my travels.
But let’s face it … typing in words or phrases from a menu can be time consuming. When I went to my local laundromat to do 2 machine loads of laundry … I was faced with several signs, all in Italian. And in the area where I’m living, the menus are in Italian, while in Rome there were English menus. If you have to type in wording from a sign or from a menu … time has been wasted.
Enter my new find, Word Lens. Again, a Free download from the iTunes App Store. Simply press the app button and hold it in front of a sign. What you will see is a screen that looks like you’re taking a photo (it uses he camera app) but you’ll see the words change into the language you want … in my case, English.
The app has been around for awhile and is also available for Android. It’s only new to me. But it’s so handy, I wanted to let you know just in case I’m not the only one wandering around in the translation dark.
Below you will see a screen shot (from the iTunes site) of a sign in German and what the screen looks like when you point your phone at the screen.
Enjoy the app. And if you have other apps our participants should consider, please let us know in the comments section. We always like to pass along information that can be used abroad.
About 50% of the way down our Home Page, you will see our Social Media section. You can show up there and become famous!
The first section is what we call a “slider.” That’s an area where we place current photos of our incredible participants and their quotes. Just down from there we have our “Latest News.” We change this out each Monday. Lower prices, new programs … anything that’s news about our programs we place here.
But then you come to your area … the Social Updates. Here is where we show you our up to the second Facebook posts, Tweets and photos from Instagram. If you add a post or photo or video to our Facebook page … you’ll be famous. Tweet about GeoVisions or Teach Abroad and you will be included in our Twitter feed. And if you share one of your Instagram photos with us … you are really famous.
When it the last time you were able to get on an organization’s Home Page? Well, you just can’t. So this is your chance to break the barriers and get on GeoVisions' Home Page.
Just go to our Facebook page and upload an incredible photo you took on your program or a photo of your travel bag as you pack for a GeoVisions program. Or Tweet about us … even a direct message will do. Let us know what you've done or read that helps others. What we love is Instagram … that’s going to require you to share a photo or 2 or 3 with us. But your photo will show up here.
We have tried to make a website that reflects our participant’s experiences rather than just the ones we want you to see. Or the ones we think you want to see. Our new site needs to reflect our participants’ thoughts and feelings and we hope we have designed a site that will do just that.
Can you think of anything else you would like to see us add to our Home Page that is more reflective of what’s going on with the programs or with you? Leave a comment and let us know.
I posted this video sometime ago, and wanted to post it again since we're in the peak travel time for most people.
"People have a love affair with adventure. We feel it inside like a current in the wind, and it drives us to step outside the ordinary."
It is a video by Grand Trunk, Goods for the Road. You can take a look over on http://www.grandtrunkgoods.com. Before you do, take 3 minutes and watch the most amazing 3 minute video about travel ever made.
And of course ... get in touch with us here at GeoVisions. We live this video everyday.
A Series On Little Known Facts About GeoVisions
I’m going to do a series (over the rest of this year) about a few things of interest (I hope you find them interesting) about GeoVisions. I’ll bet some of our staff didn’t even know some of these things.
This post is about just one part of our logo … did you notice the “dot” above the second “i” (GeoVis*i*ons)? It is a 7-point star.
In 2001 when our current logo was designed, there were many reasons our founders decided to use the seven-point star as an integral part of our logo. Here are some of the things they thought about as they wrote out our mission statement and thought about what the seven-point star meant over the course of time.
In traditional Christian teachings, it took God seven-days to create the world. It is also a symbol of protection in some Christian traditions. In Kabbalistic tradition, the seven-point star represents the sphere of Venus and the power of love.
Travel And Symbols
In keeping with the idea of creating a cultural exchange organization that centered around travel to fulfill it’s mission … there are seven-directions: North, South, East, West, Above and Within.
Various bands of the Cherokee Nation (as well as the Navajo Nation Police) incorporate the seven-point star. The flag of Jordan contains a seven-pointed star. The Flag of Australia employs five seven-point stars and one pentagram to depict the Southern Cross constellation and the Commonwealth Star.
There are seven colors of the rainbow, and the seven notes of the musical scale. Western science recognizes seven chief glands in the human body, called the endocrine glands; while Eastern yoga systems speak of the seven chakras, or centers of force, in man's subtle body.
Medieval astrology has its seven Ancient and Sacred planets: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, and the Moon or Luna. There are the seven visible heavenly bodies which make up our solar system, the planets Uranus, Neptune and Pluto not being visible to the naked eye. Strictly speaking, of course, the Sun and Moon are not planets, and are more correctly described as the two luminaries; but the term 'seven sacred planets' was used for convenience. Everything upon Earth is under the governance, astrological speaking, of these seven influences.
This is why we have the seven-day week. Each day is ruled by one of the planets. The Sun rules Sunday, the Moon Monday, Mars Tuesday, Mercury Wednesday, Jupiter Thursday, Venus Friday, and Saturn Saturday. These rulerships go back to the days of ancient Chaldea and Babylon.
Also, in the Northern Hemisphere, we have the most conspicuous constellation of the night sky, the Plough, or the Great Bear (Ursa Major), which points to the North Star or the Pole star, and which consists of a group of seven bright stars.
And of course, by convention there are seven continents: Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Europe, Australia, and Antarctica. Some geographers list only six continents, combining Europe and Asia into Eurasia.
And that is how I’m going to end this post about our seven-point star as part of our logo. You can see it was given a great deal of thought. And the fact that convention has it there are seven continents, yet others list only six fits very nicely in the way our company runs each day.
We believe as we move thousands of people around our planet each year, convention is a good way to be mindful of a conservative way to run a company and maintain conventional standards of risk, safety and the exchange of language and culture. We also acknowledge we don’t do this the way we did it in the 1970’s, when our founders started out in international cultural exchange. We know there is another way(s) to exchange cultures … a different star(s).
Still, as we move into our 14th year we also think about the many uses and meanings of the seven-point star each time we see it. And those who decided on this symbol to represent what GeoVisions stands for, and what they were thinking as they decided between hundreds of ideas … knew the seven-point star was exactly right for what they wanted to do with cultural exchange and how that changes lives. Our staff and our participants perpetuate these ideas each time they go out into the world.
How I See You
Five days ago
Sally Smith (alias … ) talked to us about Walk and Talk Italy. She really wanted to go, the country was right, the timing was right and the price was right.
Four Days Ago
Sally Smith (same alias … ) applied for Walk and Talk Spain. She changed her mind and … that’s OK. We wrote back asking her if she really wanted Spain since she contacted us about Spain. In the meantime … she got an email from someone in Operations welcoming her to Italy. Ugh.
Three Days Ago
We got Sally Smith (yes … alias) enrolled in Spain. Chucked out Italy. (Sorry, Italy.)
Two Days Ago
Sally Smith (OK already … ) got an email from our Operations department welcoming her to Spain and suggesting she write her “Dear Family letter” in their native language … French.
Sally Smith left us a telephone message because we are closed for the July 4th holidays. Her “buyers remorse” period was ending that day. (By the way, we’re the ONLY travel company offering a 72-hour “buyers remorse” cancellation policy.) But I digress. She left a message saying she really needed more time because she originally wanted Italy, moved to Spain, got an email about writing a letter in French. And she wanted to make sure we were … uh … not having some kind of sun-stroke.
So … I’m the Executive Director. I listened to her phone message (I get them all via email) and I called her back. Within 30-minutes. And what makes this remarkable … or at least from Alias Sally’s perspective … I’m in London.
“Hello, Sally?” (“Hello, Real Name?”)
“My name is Randy LeGrant. I work at GeoVisions. I just heard your message all the way from London.”
“Yes. And it was important enough for me to call you back and give you the holiday weekend plus 2 more days for your ‘buyers remorse policy.’
“Yes … I’m in London. I listen to all our messages. I knew our US office is closed for the holiday weekend and I wanted to call you from London and give you extra time. You need to be absolutely sure you’re doing the right thing with the right organization.”
And I'm proud to say even on the 4th, two staff from Connecticut got in touch with Alias Sally to reassure her. We do make errors, and we do what it takes to make you feel comfortable about traveling with us.
So … How Do I See You?
When I read your emails and when I listen to your messages and sometimes talk to you on the telephone, this is what I imagine:
- You are giving up a lot of your time to go abroad to make a difference in people’s lives.
- You are spending a lot of your money to go abroad to make a difference in people’s lives.
- Lets add spending money and airfare.
- You think more about the people you are going to teach or work with than you do yourself.
- You don’t consider this a tour … it’s an opportunity to give back.
- This isn’t the cheapest option you found … you are investing in solving problems.
- You’re flexible. You want to leverage your time and money to make the biggest difference.
- You’re not “me.com.” It’s not about you. Rather, it simply involves you.
- You trust us so you deserve the very best service we can possibly provide.
- More than service, you want to make sure you’re always safe.
- Safety is the number one priority at GeoVisions.
- You really want to exchange your culture with another person’s culture.
- You want to teach your language and learn your host’s language. (Or brush up on it.)
- You like kids.
- You don’t mind living in someone’s home as a guest.
- You’re a pleasant guest … you help clear the table, you don’t sit in your room on the Internet and you keep your room tidy.
Admittedly, I could make a much longer list. But you have other things to do with your day.
Why Do I See You This Way?
We ask people after they have been in-country for a month, two months, three months and so on how things are going. Here’s what some of them have told us this week:
- I have been to a couple of soccer parties. Spaniards love their futbol and going to these parties was a great way to meet new people.
- My initial goal was to perfect my Spanish. Learning a language is a slow process, but I think that I have made significant strides. I am now able to have conversations with just about everyone and I am excited to see how much I will progress by the end of my trip.
- The internship is beyond any expectations. I have learned more than I could ever have hoped, and my supervisor has really helped me immerse in the culture.
- I came over with the goals to
- 1. Help My host family improve their English.
- 2. Try to learn a little German.
- 3. learn about another culture/lifestyle.
- 4. Go out of my comfort zone to experience new things.
- I have accomplished all of these goals, though in different ways and to different stages. I was not able to learn as much German as I hoped, as it was difficult without any formal instruction at all. It would've been nice to have just a small background on the language. However, the English of my host family has improved, so that has been rewarding to watch. Through lots of activities and great, long conversations with all different people here I have gained a great appreciation for their culture and lifestyles while also stepping outside of my comfort zone and trying lots of new things.
- I have had an amazing time so far. I was paired with a wonderful family who are very welcoming.
- Yes, thanks to my host family, I have traveled a lot. I have also done some weekend trips with other Au Pairs.
- Say yes to everything, try to speak to everyone in the native tongue, and don't get frustrated by inconveniences, learn from everything.
Where The Rubber Meets The Road
We do have people who have managed to go abroad with us for all the wrong reasons. They end up unhappy. And unhappy people want to write to the BBB and complain, write a negative review "to pay us back", and write a multitude of nasty emails, which takes up time since we want to reply to each one.
Writing this on 5 July, 2014 I can honestly write that these people I’ve just described comprise 0.64% of our annual participants. And we move 4,000 people each year all around the world. That’s 25 travelers out of 4,000 total travelers. Our goal is to keep getting that down to 20, then 15 and then 10. Ideally, in a perfect world, we’d like it to be zero.
But I can also honestly write here that if you match “how I see you” in the list above … you will be one of the many GeoVisions travelers writing kudos, like the ones above. And if you don’t match “how I see you” in the list above … all of us promise to do all we can to help you, support you and try our best to turn the experience around.
We would love to have you comment!
When Bad Things Happen With Your Airline It Is Random Not Personal
I’m traveling in Europe for a month visiting our overseas partner offices and meeting and talking to many of our participants in Europe who are on our programs. That’s mostly tutors, teachers and camp counselors. It’s the first time in a while that I’ve taken a full month away from the office to talk to visit our participants and programs and I’m excited to learn as much as I can.
Because I work in our office in Connecticut, of course I had to fly here. Normally this would have never made it to the top of the “Blog This Now” list. But when British Airways canceled my reservation and didn’t tell me until I went online to check in … I thought I might write about the experience. We do get a lot of “emergency” phone calls when flights are missed or canceled. I thought it might might make even a small difference if our participants knew those are random incidents and can happen to anyone. But turning that really bad experience into something good is all in how you approach the problem.
No airline is out to get you.
They are out to over price you, but they are not picking on you when they cancel your flight, lose your luggage or make you late. If you approach the challenge knowing even the most experienced travelers in the world get bumped off a flight every now and then … you will keep the stress levels down.
Did You Reserve Your Flight With An Agency, An Online Company Or The Airline?
I ask, because it makes a huge difference. The first thing British Airways said to me when I called them was, “You didn’t make your reservation with us, sir. You made it through American Express Travel. You’ll have to talk to them. Your reservation is canceled and the flight is full. Call American Express.”
Totally up to you, but 95% of the time I will reserve with the airline directly. The little I save with Travelocity or Kayak pales when I need to negotiate with the airline directly (like at the airport at 5:00 a.m.) and then I don’t need to step out of line, call the agency hotline, talk to them, have them call the airline, then the agency calls me back an hour or more later, and then I still end up talking to the airline. After the flight has departed, of course.
Direct. No matter the airline, deal with them if you want to minimize issues after you purchase.
Do You Have Travel Delay Coverage?
If you are traveling on a GeoVisions program, yes you do. Always check to see if you have travel delay. If a flight delay means you have to overnight or buy a big meal when you thought you might be served on the flight … insurance to cover you in the delay could save you a lot of money.
My Entire Reservation Was canceled
This is rare. Last week I checked in to BA online and when I did I saw a message saying I could not check in and that I needed to call the airline directly.
I called British Airways and through a random glitch, my name was still in the computer at BA, but my seat had been given away and although I was showing to hold an open ticket … BA said they could not allow me on the plane because the my reservation had been canceled by American Express Travel, where I originally made my reservation. I had made the reservation 60-days out, had never received an email or call from Amex … so I suspected it was an internal error that BA refused to confirm. AND they refused to talk to me, since Amex had made the original reservation.
So, 9:00 p.m. I called American Express Travel. They tried for hours (literally) to find someone at BA after 9:00 p.m. eastern on a Thursday night who could help. I memorized the music on hold. And I was on hold for 30-45 minutes at a time not knowing what was going on.
Much later, American Express Travel found a supervisor (it pays to be able to ask an agent: “Could you please connect me with a supervisor?” I did on my original call but was reminded that only American Express Travel could help.
The supervisor was able, after hours of work, to find a seat for me. The thing was, they gave me Row 23, Seat J. I was thrilled. I would be going to Europe on time after all.
I logged back in, checked in and printed my boarding pass. Row 19, Seat G. Um. I wrote down 23 J.
I called BA back again. After 15 minutes they confirmed I was indeed on the flight and in Row 23, Seat J. I asked them why I had printed out 19 G and they had no real reason for me. "Show up at the airport and hope for the best."
Lesson Learned - You Can benefit
Had I made my reservation on BA back 60-days before now, I’d have been off the phone in 30-minutes with the right seating assignment that matched my boarding pass.
Instead, I drove 2-hours to NYC with the idea I was 23 J, had a pass printed for 19 G and worried for hours.
And as it turns out? They switched out the aircraft. On the flight I actually used, I was 19 G. The computer was right all along.
I hope these few lessons and ideas are helpful to you. Remember … these things happen to everyone. They’re random and not at all personal. And if you can remain calm and patient you will get more of what you need. Getting up in someone’s grill who’s trying to help will only get you a step backward. You are trying to fly forward. In this case, booking directly with the airline would have saved hours of sitting on hold.
If you have stories that could help others here, please do leave a comment. We would love to hear from you.
If you're not a parent ... don't read this.
This post is for parents. Your child is abroad and you're nervous. All too often we explain to parents when they call for information about the program their child is on that we can’t talk to them about very much since our agreement is with their child … who happens to be an adult. But when you’re the parent and you’re on the receiving end of that line, it isn’t a “happy place” you're in. You didn't want that answer.
I’ve been doing this work for almost 40 years and my youngest daughter is on her way to her first home stay. To be honest, she’s 16. So she really isn’t an adult. But I’m nervous. It’s impossible to switch off the “Dad” button. This is an interesting situation for me to be in, because without any thought at all, I send people into home stays abroad everyday of the year. And when parents call to check in, ask questions or challenge something that’s going on, our standard answer is, “Our contract is with your child. We can talk to you, but we really can’t talk about the program.”
I have to rethink this position. Because now that the tables are turned, I don’t like where I’m sitting. As the parent, I mean.
Here is a great article from the China Daily about support groups of parents whose childern go abroad to go to school or work.
What I Want For My Daughter
...and I suspect what you want for your child too:
- I want Molly to have a loving family for the month she will be living in France.
- I want her host Mom (she’s going to be living with a single-mother and two daughters) to treat her as her own daughter.
- I want the 16-year old host-sister to include her in activities she has with her friends.
- Molly is a very picky eater … I want her to have to try new and different foods … with love. I don’t want her to be hungry.
- I want Molly to be included as a member of the family.
- I’d like for Molly to have some private space, to be able to retreat to her soul when she’s homesick or misses her friends, her routine, her dog, Archie.
- I want her to experience independence … and still be my daughter who needs me.
- I want her to feel like she can text or email me if things aren’t going well, and know I’ll figure out a way to make it all better from many miles and time-zones away.
- I want her to become fluent in French through immersion and 64 more hours of French lessons.
- I want this experience to give her life skills she can use in her last two years of high school and getting into college … and recalling to her own daughter when SHE wants to do this program.
- I want her to be happy and thrilled with this experience and with herself.
- I want her to be safe.
And I could keep typing, adding a lot to that list. If you're reading ... please add to the list by adding some comment to the bottom of this post.
But what I want for my daughter is not at all different from what you parents want for your child. The difference is, until today I was a “gate keeper” if you called us. Today? I’m a Dad. And I don’t want any gate keeper to add more angst to my life. This is quite enough, thank you.
What Can Parents Do?
After 40-years of doing this, I got to pick the very best program for my daughter. I would have picked GeoVisions … but we don’t take anyone younger than 18. So I chose a program I know to be the best for her. That’s right, I have the inside track. And I used it.
But I was not happy with the lack of information about the host family we received from this excellent program. So I wrote to them and asked for more. Now this is important for you to know: the reply I got was, “If you want more information, you and Molly should email the host family.”
Gate Keeper! That didn’t feel good. I got a taste of my own medicine and it didn’t go down well.
Oh you should have heard me around the office. On second thought … it’s good you didn’t.
Parents: If you do only one thing ... do this
Molly told me she would email the host family and that under no circumstances was I to communicate with them. This was her program after all and she wanted to be in charge. (Nice try, Molly. I’m the parent and I get to act like one.) But I nodded my head up and down (understanding what she was saying) and in my mind nodded my head sideways (understanding what she was saying was a load of crap to a Dad.)
Molly wrote to the host family and received a really nice reply all in French.
So here it is: I wrote to the host mom. Oh yes I did. Oh yes I did. The only way Molly will know is if the host mom tells her, or she reads this Blog. And I’m sure the host Mom will not say a thing, and I can guarantee you that Molly does NOT read this Blog. But who cares? Right?
The One Thing I Encourage All Parents To Do If You’re Nervous
Write to the host family. To be honest … GeoVisions can’t give you their email address. But let’s get real. GET IT FROM YOUR KID. You want to know where they live. Their phone number in case the family pet dies. And the email address for an emergency.
Then, write a SHORT but friendly email (knowing English is not their first language) and tell them a little about you and the family and end QUICKLY with, “I just wanted you to know I love [insert child’s name here] with all my heart and know [insert gender her] will be in good hands and come home with wonderful stories and have incredible experiences."
You will feel so much better. And you’ll get a reply and you’ll feel SO MUCH BETTER.
So don’t call here. Take matters into your own hands and be the parent. And if you want … go ahead and give me a call. Or email me. Start with, “Dear Coach…”
I'm reading The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, who defines a startup as an organization dedicated to creating something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty. I think we would all agree that changing currencies, wildly fluctuating airfares, political instability, a glut of competition in a small space are a few examples of conditions of extreme uncertainty.
An area of the book that hit home to me was Ries' thoughts on innovation.
If you are a stakeholder in the volunteer abroad or teach abroad space you are seeing a time when it is easy to open your doors, find some programs you like, and copy them. If you are a traveler and you've done research on a few organizations offering these types of programs, you have to scratch your head and wonder how there could be so many programs that offer host families in France, sustainable projects in Peru, or classroom jobs in Thailand.
How can there be so many aggregated search engines offering the exact searches, like GoAbroad, GoOverseas, StudyAbroad, TransitionsAbroad and Abroad101 to name just a few?
Unfortunately, this is an industry as Pooh would say, "of very little brain." Very few of us seem to be innovating for the customer ... we seem to be copying only what we like and slapping that on the Internet and in essence, building it and hoping they will come. Or expecting they will come.
I was at a conference a week ago where 75 representatives of organizations who do exactly what GeoVisions does met to talk about marketing, online technology and how to attract more travelers. It was good ... don't get me wrong. But I walked away at the end of two-days wondering why we never focused on innovation. I've been in this space for 39 years and can safely say there is simply a given number of people drawn to volunteer and teach abroad experiences. That isn't your everyday traveler.
I live in a house where the favorite pie happens to be peach. Homemade crust. Fresh-picked peaches. There are four of us in the house. 3 of the 4 love peach pie. So when a cooked peach pie is on the counter, unguarded, there are 3 of us trying to get in there to grab a slice. There isn't a second pie. And the pie is always the same size. If my in-laws pop in, we now have two more people wanting a slice of that pie.
Well, you know where I'm going with this. I do not belong to the camp that says "build it and they will come." And I don't belong to the camp that suggests more and more people are eager and waiting to volunteer or teach abroad. That ship sailed, pun intended.
Those travelers are 20-30 years of age (mostly) and they now have real jobs, real vacation periods, student loans out the wazoo, and rent. In 2008 and 2009 those people could not find work and had moved back in with Mom and Dad. This pie is the pie is the pie.
Yet, we see a few organizations who are adamant about competing on price. "$10 a day volunteer programs." "The lowest cost volunteer programs anywhere." And that isn't innovation. When GeoVisions invented the Conversation Corps (living with a family and tutoring that family in English for free room and board) no one was doing this program. And now there are at least 10 players in that specific space. Copying programs is not innovation.
According to Ries, we can measure innovation in our small little travel space this way:
* The number of travelers on programs that didn't exist anywhere 3-years ago,
* The % of revenue coming from those programs against total company revenues.
Once again, if all you do is set up a project in Africa that already exists elsewhere and you manhandle your overseas partner to give you a rock-bottom deal to operate it ... that isn't innovation. Taking a program that GeoVisions provides in Malta and making it your own isn't innovation either. But coming out with a new program that didn't exist before (anywhere) ... that's innovation and it's something I'd like to see more organizations do.
Confused by all this? OK. Below you will find the Coca Cola 2nd Lives video. This is a highly innovative program in Asia run by Coke, and of course I hope it catches on elsewhere. But it's the kind of innovation we need in our unique little travel space. Something that didn't exist before, championed by an industry leader ... copied by none.
Enjoy the video and if it sparks some innovative ideas ... why not share a few of them in the comments section?
Our CEO, Kevin Morgan, sometimes has to remind us that, "We're not saving lives here." And this typically comes up when someone is taking what we do too seriously.
Now, there isn't anything wrong with taking travel and cultural exchange seriously. In fact, that's a good thing.
But sometimes we obsess on why someone we've been talking to for 3 months decides not to take the jump and do a GeoVisions program ... or, chooses another organization. sometimes we get grouchy when a participant calls from overseas and is having an issue with a host parent ... but they end the call with, "Please don't tell them I called you." Well, how can we help, then?
GeoVisions was founded, ultimately, as a place where people can have fun. We try to create an atmosphere where staff can come to work (no matter how busy or stressed they are) and have fun doing good work. We create programs where our participants can have fun meeting and exceeding their goals. We always try to provide home stay exchanges whereby a host family in another country will have fun with a GeoVisions volunteer living with them.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with savings lives. It's just that we're not doing it here. And that isn't why we exist.
I am attending a conference in Berkeley, CA for two-days at the GoOverseas.com offices. One of the speakers today asked one of the founders of GoOverseas why he founded the search engine. Mitch replied quickly and definitively ... "I wanted GoOverseas to be the Yelp for overseas programs." It's the first time I ever heard Mitch put it that way. I liked it.
We started GeoVisions to have fun exchanging our culture with other cultures. It never came up that we'd save lives or save the world. And honestly? We don't exist to change the world. That kind of presumes we know how the world should be. And we don't. We are happy taking responsibility for making sure we give all of our participants a platform in which they can meet and exceed their goals, exchange their culture with other cultures, meet and live like locals and have fun doing it. Period. Full stop.
Is it hard teaching or tutoring English? Sure. Can you laugh out loud teaching "four," "fore," and "for?" We hope so.
Smiles do not need translation.
I was a high school English teacher from 1972 to 1979 ... in Kansas.
In 1974 I saw a film from AIFS (The American Institute For Foreign Study) that I showed to my classes, which eventually changed many lives. You can see a brief clip here from an old 16mm film. The school board met and decided I would not be allowed to take students to Europe because they didn't want to upset families who couldn't afford such a trip.
Never a teacher to let the Board of Education decide my fate, the following year, in 1975, I rented a room in the local bank and I held meetings there. In my first year I took 13 students to five countries for 30-days. I did that every year from 1975 through 1979, ending with 80 students, five countries, 30-days. I joined AIFS full time in 1979 and headed to Greenwich, Connecticut from the classroom in Kansas.
But the point of this particular story is what motivated me to do this in the first place, and to make it my career for the last 39 years. It boils down to a jacket bought in Florence, Italy.
The AIFS film I showed in all my classes is one thing. That got everyone excited to travel abroad for the month of July through Greece, Italy, Austria, France and England. We designed our itinerary, held meetings, invited parents and the thing just took on a life of it's own.
During that first year our group was visited by a young man who worked for AIFS and he came to one of our meetings. That, of course, gave our group another shot in the arm and it went a long way for the parents to see that AIFS would send someone to a meeting and it gave AIFS and me a lot of credibility.
When that young man walked through the door, he brought fresh air with him. And he wore a stunning (for 1975) leather Italian jacket and he had a beard and long hair. And I loved that jacket. During the meeting he told everyone he had just flown in from Italy where he had attended an AIFS staff meeting in Rome and he took some time to sit atop Palatine Hill where he overlooked the Roman Forum and contemplated the value of student educational travel. And then he went to Florence to see a group of teachers and students and he bought the jacket he was wearing at a leather shop in Florence.
I was a guy who had grown up in the farmland of Oklahoma. I was teaching in very rural Kansas. Having a job like his was unthinkable. Well, it was totally unimaginable for someone like me. What? You get paid to fly around the world, sitting atop ancient hills, taking notes while looking out upon ruins, and you make enough money to buy a leather jacket IN Italy? Get out!
I decided at that moment I was going to get a job like that. There was no question that I would do whatever it took to have a job exactly like his. It's all I thought about from that point on.
You should not be surprised to read that our group formed and we left for Greece. We went to Rome and yes, we drove to Florence and stayed there 2 nights. I broke away from the group, found the shop and I bought a jacket exactly like the AIFS rep's jacket. Although it was very hot in Florence, Italy in July 1976 ... I had my Bicentennial Passport and I wore that new jacket. Sweat took on a new meaning but I had wrapped myself, literally, in my future.
By the time we got to London 2 weeks later I had started a beard.
In the summers of 1977, 1978 and 1979 I did this each time but with far more than 13 students. I wore my Italian jacket to meetings, I grew out my hair and had a pony tail. In 1979 we needed two, forty-passenger coaches to hold everyone. And before we left for Greece I got a call from the President of AIFS ... Hank Kahn ... and he wanted to fly out to that odd state with lots of high school students who travel to Europe and meet me in person. He couldn't understand how I could recruit that many high school students in Kansas to follow me to Europe for a month.
By the time he flew back to Connecticut a day later, he had offered me a full time job. In Greenwich, Connecticut. For twice what I was making as a teacher. In September of 1979, I left classroom teaching where I was making $8,600 a year and stepped onto the platform of international educational exchange for $19,000 a year, and oh yes ... he threw in $1,500 of moving expenses. I had never seen so much money.
I have lived my dream for 39 years. Even today at almost 65 years of age, I still wake up and start my day knowing I followed my passion. I love my work. I love everything about it. It is what I think about when my eyes open, and it is the last thing I am thinking about when my eyes close at night and my days are never done. I still keep in touch with students who traveled with me all those years ago.
There are times I miss the classroom. And then there's last March when I walked through the Roman Forum, looked over at Palatine Hill and smiled. I took out my notebook and jotted a few things down.