GeoVisions Blog

Test Driving Voluntourism

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Sun, Oct 24, 2010

The Bai Nian School in BeijingLast 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!]

Recess at the Bai Nian School in BeijingI 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.

Having fun in the classroomThere 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.

At the end of class in BeijingKicking 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.

Tags: Reasons To Volunteer Abroad, China, Make Something Happen, Volunteering Abroad, Conversation Corps-China

If You Speak English, You Can Teach English With GeoVisions

Posted by Kevin Morgan on Mon, Jul 19, 2010

describe the imageI’m Kevin Morgan, GeoVisions CEO.  I’m travelling now through Asia ...  meeting with our English language tutors, future Work and Travel students, and leaders in education and exchange.  I’m also reading the region’s newspapers and websites.  There are so many stories I read, and conversations I have that stress the importance of people in Asia learning to speak better English … and there is a role for you.  

describe the image“If you speak English, you can teach English.”  Okay, maybe not the intricacies and nuances of dangling participles and conjugation of verbs.  You see, our tutors teach people how to speak better, by talking with them, making them more comfortable with day-to-day conversation.  We give you tools to help you coach others along, and as much support as you need, but, if you like to talk with people, and have a bit of self-confidence, you can help people learn to be better English speakers.


Why is this important in Asia?  Here are some things I learned in just the past week:

-       Reuter’s News Service reported that in Japan, some of the biggest retailers announced they would start testing employees for English proficiency.  Even Toyota and Nissan have announced moves to make English more common in the workplace.

-       In Beijing, where it was recently announced that English will be taught in China starting in kindergarten, the government announced plans to have every public employee to know more than 100 basic English sentences.  80% of police officers will be required to pass English tests starting in 2015.

-       In Bangkok, a survey of business people uncovered trends in English training that call for more practical and specialized language training in Thailand.  Language coaching and conversation specific to a person’s needs are becoming as important as the basics learned in formal classroom teaching.

-       In Singapore, there is a growing need for English teachers and Conversation assistants.  Why, you ask?  Don’t Singaporeans speak English already?  Yes, but thousands of mainland China students are flocking to Singapore to learn English and still be comfortable in this city/state with a rich Chinese heritage (and maybe some relatives with whom they can live!)

describe the imageAll the above reinforces the need for English speakers to come to Asia (or anywhere in the world for that matter).  On our Conversation Corps and Conversation Partner program you can come to exciting world capitals or provincial villages, spend 15-25 hours a week “talking (as a tutor/coach)” and travel and get to know people in your free time.  As Asia develops its global leadership skills, you can see what drives these economies and these people … and you’ll have a great time.


Do you speak English?  Think about becoming a conversation tutor!  GeoVisions offers Conversation Corps and Conversation Partner programs in over 15 countries, with more new countries like Korea, Japan and Singapore coming on board every week.

Tags: Conversation Partner, Teach Abroad, Conversation Corps Thailand, Conversation Corps, Volunteering Abroad, Conversation Corps-China

Volunteer Abroad in China, Egypt or Cambodia

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Sun, Mar 01, 2009
Conversation Corps-Egypt is here.  Magnificent monuments are everywhere. The pointed perfection of the Pyramids of Abu Sir, soaring minarets of Cairo's skyline, and majestic tombs and temples of Luxor are just a few of the wonders that generations of visitors have admired during their city sojourns, jaunts up and down the Nile and expeditions through spectacularly stark desert landscapes.  Awaiting you are families who want to learn or improve their English.

Conversation Corps-China has arrived.  A journey through this colossus of a country is a mesmerizing encounter with the most populous and perhaps most culturally idiosyncratic nation on earth.  Families are looking for native English speakers to tutor them in English in return for free room and board.

Remember that the Conversation Corps is a volunteer program, whereby you volunteer to tutor a family up to 15 hours each week to teach or improve their English.  In return, volunteer tutors receive free room and board.  Conversation Corps tutors usually have days and weekends free to immerse themselves into the culture of their host country.  Conversation Corps tutors must be native English speakers.

Conversation Corps-China includes airport transportation, 2 nights in a 3-star Beijing Hotel at the start of the program for a formal orientation and a 1/2 day tour.  Transport to the family is also included as well as meals and accommodation during orientation.

Northern Cambodia.Interested in a more traditional volunteer program?  Think Cambodia.  The medical volunteer projects located in the Northern Cambodian countryside involve working with local and international NGOs.  The renovations of several medical outpost/heath centers in these remote areas is done in cooperation with the provincial public health department. In addition, volunteers may work on the follow up of a project initiated by the international development NGO, Malteser, replenishing medical aid kits in over 60 village communities. For participants with a professional medical training, it will be possible to assist local medical staff in the Health centers or to organize first aid refreshers training for villagers.

Find out more about this amazing project in Northern Cambodia and apply now to have the most amazing experience of a lifetime.

Email us for more information.  Remember, at GeoVisions you can apply for free.  We take no form of payment until you have been confirmed.

The GeoVisions Global Work and Service Team

Tags: Cambodia, Conversation Corps-China, Conversation Corps-Egypt

Lower Program Fees To Volunteer Longer

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Sat, Feb 28, 2009

So it only makes sense, doesn't it?  Volunteer longer and make more of a difference.  But staying longer costs you more and is much more of a commitment for most people.  So why are program fees more expensive the longer you stay?

GeoVisions is reversing this trend slowly.  Check out our Conversation Corps--China program.  The longer you stay, the lower the program fee.  If you can make a commitment to stay for 3 months, your program fee will be less expensive.

Think about it.  Your airfare is your airfare.  Stay a day, stay a month, stay 3 months.  The airfare is the same.  "L" visa?  $130.  It is what it is.  Stay a day or stay 3 months the visa fee is the same.  Because it is a Conversation Corps program, your room and board is covered already.  The GeoVisions advantage is that the program fee is reduced the longer your commitment.

It is true all of our other programs are just the opposite.  But we have started with China and we'll begin to make as many changes as we can.

We are including 2 weeks of Mandarin, 2 nights hotel in Beijing with room and board, a half day of orientation and a 1/2 day tour of Beijing.  Airport transfers, transport to the host family and weekly activities...just in case you need MORE to do.

We hope you will enjoy this program and this new concept.


Tags: Why Do I Have To Pay To Volunteer, Conversation Corps-China