As the Executive Director of GeoVisions, founders of The Conversation Corps, I'm able to see all the good aspects of a program as well as those that aren't working. If some of my Blog posts are going to dish it out to others, I should also dish it out right back at me.
Three years ago GeoVisions took the Gateway, international educational exchange, and created a Gatejumper, live with a family and teach them English. We named it Conversation Corps. We took an old concept, started in 1915 by AFS Volunteer Ambulance Drivers, and gave it a little twist. As long as you're living with the family, help them learn your language. Oddly enough, that was not the focus of an exchange. In most cases, it still isn't.
GeoVisions has sent almost 1000 tutors abroad as members of The Conversation Corps in the three years we have operated the program in 18 different countries. In those three years and looking at all those volunteers headed abroad, we have come to the conclusion that you have to be a very special person to make the program work. There can be instances where this isn't a great program for everyone.
Let me explain.
GeoVisions doesn't sit here with thousands of families overseas waiting on tutors with baited breath. We look for those families much like a high-end restaurant cooks every tasty morsel just for you and to your liking. We let you take a pass on a family if you don't think they are a good match. But sometimes the stars just don't align. Our volunteers want a mom, a dad, a dog, 2 children (one boy and one girl) aged 6-9, a private bedroom, a private bathroom, hoops on the garage, and situated across the street from transport into the city. Oh yes....wireless. We can't forget wireless. And obviously the family needs to speak at least SOME English.
Sometimes, because of the time of year or the merit of a tutor's application packet, we have a family comprised of one parent, one child (a boy aged 17) a private bedroom with a shared bath, no garage (never mind the hoops) a 30 minute walk to a metro for a 1 hour ride into the city (if you are very lucky) and no wireless, but a 5 minute walk to the Internet Cafe. No English spoken here.
Get the picture?
The Conversation Corps has had 3 years of success because we know there are families out there who just want a border...they don't really want to learn English. So we look for families who really want a tutor...they want to improve their conversational English. They have to be interviewed and screened. They aren't "on call." And tutors need to feel comfortable with the family and the family needs to feel comfortable with the tutor.
Sometimes that perfect match is in the country...so that's why we build in weekends for tutors to travel. And we encourage tutors NOT to stay 3 months...take time for yourself and enjoy the independent travel.
But it can get boring out on the olive farm in Spain or Italy. It can get boring even an hour from a city but with poor transportation to the hot spots. Especially if your host family prefers that you don't come in late.
People used to the big city, spotlights, being able to very easily come and go and come in at the wee hours...we sometimes have issues with them. And we have found this program is not for them.
What's wrong with Conversation Corps? It requires a perfect match. Tutors work hard to deliver a compelling application packet. They sometimes don't consider that the host family has a choice of tutors. And we find host families don't always inquire about the needs of the tutor. Even when they email back and forth before the program begins. Everyone (tutor and host family) considers their own needs first. And at the end of the program we hope that is no longer the case...at least that is why we designed the program the way it is.
What's wrong with Conversation Corps? When all the stars and planets align...nothing. What makes the perfect match? When the tutor realizes they are there to volunteer. And when they have such a love of people and their home language that they want to share. Farm, small town or city. Everyone wants to learn. Everyone wants to share their lives. THAT can actually create the perfect match.