100% of the tutors who join the Conversation Corps
, live in a homestay. And 90% of the tutors who are chosen as a Conversation Partner
live in a homestay. That's why, when we read Traveldudes
' Blog post on 5 Tips for a Volunteer Abroad Homestay, we wanted to call your attention to it.
Zablon, from www.volunteercapitalcentre.org
wrote and contributed the post, and as far as we're concerned, it's a keeper. Zablon lists five great ideas to make your homestay successful and easy. We hope you'll read his post
As Zablon points out, "Homestays are a great way to experience the culture."
The homestays mentioned in the post include activities such as cooking, washing dishes, clothes, and cleaning. The homestays on Conversation Corps do not include those activities. You certainly can cook your own food if it's OK with the family, and you are expected to keep your room clean and tidy. And of course wash your own clothes. But as a member of the Corps or as a Conversation Partner, domestic chores (cooking or cleaning for the family and watching after the children) are not allowed. Also, at GeoVisions
, your accommodation and meals are included in your program fee.
What does happen, similarly on Conversation Corps or Conversation Partner, is that as a volunteer living with a host family, "you will get a new family to live with, in that you will have host parents, host brothers, host siblings and sometimes host nephews and nieces."
If you have time, please click the link and read Zablon's post on Traveldudes. If you don't have the time, here are the five tips that will make your homestay more enjoyable:
- Bring Gifts. "While you are at home, look for inexpensive gifts which can only be found in your home country."
- Be Open Minded. "Things are bound to be different." From the type of food to the family activities, you are a guest.
- Honor Sleep Schedules. One of the chief complaints GeoVisions receives is tutors sleeping late. "Some cultures find it offensive to still be in bed when everyone has woken up."
- Accept and Appreciate Kind Gestures. Saying "thank you" goes a long way.
- Leaving A Positive Impression. A homestay presents you an opportunity to form a lifelong friendship.
At GeoVisions, Conversation Corps and most Conversation Partner programs include homestays. What's the difference between the two programs? When you join the Conversation Corps, you live with a family and tutor the family in conversational English. When you become a Conversation Partner, you will live with a family but you will leave the house each day to tutor a group outside the home in conversational English. Conversation Partners tutor at police departments, tourist offices, national parks and many other places where groups of individuals want to practice their English.
Have you had experience with a homestay? Could you add to the list in this post to make a homestay more fun and successful? We'd love to hear from you in our comments section, below.
Last week in Beijing, visiting some of our projects in China, I took a day out of my busy schedule to volunteer at Beijing Century Experimental School (Bai Nian School). This is the largest school for the children of migrant workers in Beijing, and the largest educational institution established by the community of Chaoyang District.
Schools of this kind lack the superior facilities and learning conditions common in ordinary schools in China. As such, the students typically have no opportunity to learn English from foreign teachers. Even a day of practicing English with a native speaker is considered a huge benefit and extremely rare.
[Of course, before you try this on your own, be sure to remember that anytime you stray off the straight and narrow in China, you need permission from the authorities and school officials, and that can take time and a lot of probing!]
I also thought a lot about the age-old argument of short-term volunteering vs. long-term volunteering. And one day does indeed fall on the side of short-term volunteering, no doubt. As a former high school English teacher, I recall the benefits of having someone from the "outside" come in for a day and jazz up the class and provide different stimulation for the students. So I took the invitation to spend a day in the classroom teaching English, and I'm so glad I did. After that experience, I've decided it's just fine to test drive a volunteer abroad project. I had an incredible day, and so did my students. And that's what's important.
I wasn't there to eradicate poverty...although as children of migrant workers...they certainly lack the finer things in life. China is now experiencing the largest mass migration of people from the countryside to the city in history. An estimated 230 million Chinese (2010) —a number equivalent to 2/3 the population of the United States or 4X the number of people who emigrated to American from Europe over a century—have left the countryside and migrated to the cities in recent years.
There are about 20 million migrant children living in Chinese cities. Many of them attend migrant schools that have often been set up by the migrant workers themselves. These schools tend to be basic but are often manned by committed, decent-quality teachers. As of 2007 there were about 200 migrant schools in Beijing with 90,000 children.
The first school for migrants to win government approval in Beijing was opened in 1993 by a teacher from a rural school who was shocked to find that many children of migrant workers were basically illiterate because their parents were too busy to help them and because they lacked residency status necessary to attend local schools. The Beijing Century Experimental School, where I volunteered for a day, was founded by a migrant worker in 1998 who luckily was able to pull himself up, and get this school opened.
Kicking the tires on the Voluntourism bus is just fine. I learned a lot about migrant workers, the children of migrant workers, and I learned that exposing them to a day of English, spoken and taught by a native English speaker, was better than me not going there at all. These kids are in no position to come in contact with native English speakers by themselves.
In total, I was in China for six days. Of those, two were free days. I volunteered for one of those free days. The rest of the time was spent in meetings. So I ended up volunteering 50% of my free time. I was able to learn a great deal from the experience and the children had a native English speaker to practice with for a day.
But the best result of the experience is that I was able to alert a friend who works at one of the premier language schools in Beijing, Live The Language. He joined me at the school and by the end of the day committed several of his students each week to volunteer at the school to speak English with the children. So my day of test driving volunteer abroad resulted in possibly 800 hours of native English speakers at this particular school.
What a difference a day makes!
We would love to hear about any test driving experiences you have had. Take advantage of the comments section below.
Hello from 35,000 somewhere over Siberia. In a few hours I'll be landing in Beijing.
I'm going to be in Beijing for a week. I'm taking 2 tours, 1 cooking class, I'm volunteer teaching at a school. And I have an afternoon of seminars to moderate and 2 days of business meetings. I'm traveling with a computer bag and a small carry-on.
Recently, I read a Blog post from an author who is out doing a book promo tour and he listed out the items he always includes in his packing list. I travel so much, it is always helpful to read what others pack in their bags. I thought I'd list out a few "must-pack" items of my own, and hopefully others will add some of theirs in our comments section.
I always bring a bag for dirty laundry. Some hotels provide them, smaller hotels and hostels tend not to include them. I find they keep clean clothes, well, clean.
For a week-long business trip, I'll pack:
- Exercise clothes
- 2 pr. slacks
- 1 pr. jeans
- 3 dress shirts
- 2 tee shirts
If I'm not having formal business meetings, I'll modify it this way:
- Exercise clothes
- 1 pr. slacks
- 2 pr. jeans
- 1 dress shirt
- 3 tee shirts
In the toiletries department, I always include:
- disposable sanitary cloths for the germophobe in all of us. A bottle of Purell can open or break…the disposables are just that.
- Lip balm. Silly to think about, but chapped lips can be really painful.
- Instant stain remover. I've never eaten a meal that I didn't drop some kind of food or drink on a shirt.
A lot of people ask me about foreign currency. Remember travelers checks? I take the minimum amount of foreign cash on the flight. (I include $20 U.S. simply because that is habit.) ATMs are everywhere now and your local bank ATM card will work anywhere. Just make sure you have the cash in your checking account! You get a much better exchange rate and you don't have a lot of money tied up in a wallet that can get lost or stolen. At the end of the trip I try to keep about $100 and bring it back. First, my youngest son loves looking through it. But it is helpful when you go back to that country to grab that cash and put it in your travel wallet. If connections are tight…you have a little cash with you to get you started.
Small bag for the day out. Not exactly a man-purse, but a smaller bag to easily fit my iPhone, a journal, some note cards and snacks.
If you take presription medication, be sure you tape the label to the container so anyone at an inspection area will know whatever it is is a prescription. I find when I fill my 3-1-1 bag and have a prescription...the agents will let me get away with it if it's labeled.
Don't forget your adaptor…most of today's electronics have built in converters. I have to charge an iPhone, MacBook Air, Bluetooth headphone, camera, and tooth brush. Everything on that list needs only an adaptor except the tooth brush. As many hotels have at least one 110 plug in the bathroom…I can normally keep that charged. So I'm always converterless.
I travel with an iPhone, so the day before I depart I sign up for the data plan and International calling. You can buy an international calling plan, a data plan or both. Be sure to wait a week after you return, and turn all that expensive stuff off. Check with your phone company for their plans because using it ad hoc or accidentally turning it on abroad, without a plan, can be very costly.
If you have items I haven't mentioned, or ideas to make packing easier and lighter, please leave them in the comments section below. Everyone is always eager to learn new packing hints.
A former student of mine posted this today on his Facebook Wall:
Happy Columbus Day! I think I'll celebrate by storming the neighbors house and claiming it for the good of the cul-de-sac. All I need is a really cool flag.
He made me laugh, and I noticed someone else wrote back that he would also need a horse and a small ship. Others added to the list and on a lazy Monday, it made me think of what we need to do to really make things happen.
One of the highest read pages on our website is, "Why Do I Have To Pay To Volunteer?" People read it because they truly do want to connect the dots on why they are volunteering their time and also paying a fee and in some cases paying for a visa and an then there's the airplane ticket and all the rest that goes with volunteering abroad. Others go to that page to see if there are any hints on fundraising, or maybe ideas on how to volunteer for free.
Everything I ever really wanted and could not have immediately, started with a photo. I literally will photograph what I want, or perhaps find a photo in a magazine or newspaper and rip it out and then I'll tape or tack it to a wall in my office...or in my bedroom where I'll see it when I turn out the light and see it when I get out of bed each morning. I take a photo of the photo and make it my wallpaper on my iPhone. My eyes see the photo of what I want all day and well into the night. My brain sees it too. After a time, it's mine.
*Disclaimer: Obviously there are limitations. It has never worked for me when I put a person's photo up. And if I see a photo of a hungry child my brain won't cure world hunger. But it might help me figure out a way to do my part. I'm just sayin'...
I had a goal sometime ago to climb one of Colorado's "fourteeners."
- I took a photo of Pikes Peak. It's in Colorado, and the summit is 14,110 feet (one of the smallest fourteeners in Colorado) and I looked at it everyday. ( You can take a look at one of my old Blog posts about hiking up Pikes Peak.)
- I added to my photo by taking a walk or a hike several times a week and I tried to make my hike more difficult each week so I was getting in shape physically. Looking at the photo all the time was getting my mind in shape too.
- Depending on the time of year you make the assent of your mountain, begin to purchase the gear and put it by the door you use to come in and out of your apartment or dorm room or house. Make a list of items you'll need and tape that up next to the photo. Check off each item when you get it, and the date. Add it to the pile. And so on.
Maybe you want to volunteer in Nepal or run a marathon. It really doesn't matter. See a photo of it everyday. Your mind will see it...even when your eyes are closed. And you'll literally make it happen. Your mind will find a way.
I'd love to see your comments below, telling me how this has worked for you. And sharing what you have taped up to the wall right now. A lot of people don't leave comments, but I hope you will. They don't all have to be about volunteering abroad. (Sometimes it's nice to write outside my chosen genre.)
So I guess this forces me to share what I had up there until recently. That's me, the old guy, standing in front of a building in Greenwich, CT. 102 Greenwich Ave. to be exact. That is where I started doing this work over 30 years ago and I wanted to show my kids where I started. I'm heading off to China in 3 days, and it's always emotional at my house when I take off for an extended trip. 2 of my 4 children are small, and young enough to miss Dad when he's gone awhile. And so it was important after all this time to carve out time in a day when I could drive them to Greenwich and share those beginnings with them.
So put a photo up and even if you have to leave it up a long time...as long as you have it there, it's important to you and you'll make it happen. It might be just like a long hike to the summit of Pikes Peak. As long as you enjoy the journey, it's worth the wait. And take a really cool flag with you!
Have you ever wondered what it's like to live with a family in Jordan, and tutor them in English? Thought, "What would it be like to join The Conversation Corps and depart for Jordan, live with a family and tutor them in conversational English?
We recommend reading Jason's Blog that he published while he was in Jordan as a member of the Conversation Corps. His Blog, Life in Amman, introduces you to the Corps and to living in Amman with a host family tutoring them in conversational English. The Blog is full of program details, photographs and video.
The very first Blog entry, "First Couple of Days in Amman" gets you invovled in where Jason lives (just outside Amman) and where the sunsets are stunning and "sunrises gorgeous."
In the post, "Past Few Days," Jason has gone out to buy black pants so he can attend an Arabic wedding. He has met a new friend just 5 minutes away, and he gets to practice his Arabic with him.
One of the reasons GeoVisions set up the Conversation Corps is the free time tutors have on this program. Jason writes about his trip from Jordan to Jerusalem and his take on Arabic life outside of Jordan. The Blog post, "The Game, Madaba, and Jerusalem" also contains a lot of photos. Jason was able to get involved in the World Cup and watched the Spain vs. Germany match on the roof of a restaurant in Amman.
The Conversation Corps exists now in 16 countries, including Conversation Corps-Jordan. Even if you don't plan to go to Jordan, Jason's Blog will give you some great motivation to make the most of your program and will encourage you to make friends outside your host family and to travel as far as you can. And if you plan to join the Corps in Jordan...Jason's Blog is a great model of everything The Conversation Corps can be.
Some Corps members have also combined Conversation Corps-Lebanon either before or after Conversation Corps-Jordan. It's a quick flight from Amman to Beirut, and the exposure to two Middle Eastern countries and cultures, and living with a host family in each country, is a once in a lifetime experience.
Have you been to Jordan or Lebanon? Please use the Comments section below to let our readers know your thoughts, and to make recommendations for all things "must do and must see" in those two countries.