GeoVisions Blog

I Do This Because Of An Italian Jacket

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Mon, Jun 02, 2014

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.

1976 Lodging

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.

Italian jackets from Florence

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.

Tags: Travel Is Transforming, Make Something Happen, Randy LeGrant

Doctor Who And Volunteer Abroad

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Mon, Jul 08, 2013

I need to publicly thank my daughter, Molly, who provided background for this post.

I assume you chose to take a look at this Post because you're a Whovian?

As if things could not get more weird with this Blog these days, I'm actually writing about volunteers going abroad who come home and say, "I thought I'd have more of an impact on the world by volunteering abroad."  And I'm doing it via an episode of Doctor Who.

Doctor Who's TARDISDoctor Who is a long-running, British science fiction show that follows The Doctor, a time-traveling alien who is actually a Time Lord.  He travels in his TARDIS that looks like a British Police Box from the 1960s.  You'll see it in the video clip below as well as on the right.

People, (like my daughter Molly), who memorize each episode of 50 years the show has been aired are called "whovians."  People like me who watch only to make their son or daughter happy (but secretly like the show) I call "whosters."  We really haven't made it to "whovian" status.

But, back to those volunteers abroad...

Most of the volunteers we send abroad choose a project where they have an interest, but where they also will have a huge impact.  An impact on the community where they are volunteering, or on the people who live there, or both.  They want to make a positive impact on the level of health care, they want to dig another water well, they want to do research on endangered wildlife or clean up a beach.  Whatever it is they want to do, they have paid money to do it and have taken time from their lives to make it happen.  So it goes with volunteering abroad.

But some return from their project disappointed.  Not in the cultural exchange.  Not in the trip itself.  But feeling like they made only a very small difference.  They had expected to show up with a group, dig a well and paint houses, and they returned feeling as though their work had hardly begun.  Not always.  But much of the time we hear these things from returnees.

Watching an episode of Doctor Who with my daughter, (Vincent and The Doctor) made me think about these returnees.  Because truth be told, if you only spend a day onsite...you're going to make a difference.  You won't find a cure for a disease, but you'll quiet a small child, make a worried parent smile, clean a supply closet that has been unused and dirty for years.

"Vincent and the Doctor" is the tenth episode in the fifth series of BBC One's, Doctor Who.  The episode was first broadcast on June 5, 2010.  (If you're a fan or care, this episode featured an uncredited guest appearance from actor Bill Nighy.)

I digress again.

So we have these volunteers abroad, returning to their home wondering what kind of impact they made when they were at their project.  And we also have this episode of Doctor Who, where Vincent van Gogh wonders if anyone would ever like his paintings.  (van Gogh died, never knowing he would be famous.)

The Doctor travels in the TARDIS with Vincent van Gogh from 1890 to 2010 to the Musée d'Orsay. Van Gogh is stunned at the display of all of his paintings, and becomes emotionally overwhelmed when he overhears art curator Mr. Black, (Bill Nighy) say that van Gogh was "the greatest painter of them all" and "one of the greatest men who ever lived". The Doctor returns an emotionally changed van Gogh back to the past.

Well, go figure.  With all that emotion and the fantastic song "Chances" by the group Athlete (and me hiding some tears) I just naturally thought of all those returnees who might never know the impact their day, their week, their month(s) would have on all those people and communities abroad.  And I was so emotional, I thought if they knew The Doctor...maybe they could get him to use his TARDIS to take them to their project a few years in the future.  I am convinced they would feel exactly like van Gogh from that episode of Doctor Who.  Just bowled over in emotion with the real impact they had from their gift of time and caring.

"The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and ... bad things. The good things don't always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don't necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant." - The Doctor

If you're at all interested, or if you've ever wondered the impact you have had on others in your life...watch this five minute clip from Vincent and The Doctor.  And maybe you'll become a "whoster" for a few minutes.

If we had the chance to go forward, all of us would be impressed with the impact we have had on lives.

Where would you go in the TARDIS?

Tags: Staying Involved, Thank You To Our Volunteers, Working For A Better World, Volunteering Abroad, Randy LeGrant, Connecting

Abandoned Insane Asylums

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Wed, Jul 03, 2013

Q: Excuse me.  What?

A: I know.  Unless I'm referencing my office, this has nothing to do with Volunteer Abroad or Work Abroad.

Q: Your office?

A: Well, come on.  Surely you have wandered through a day wondering if you're crazy?  I mean, the definition of crazy is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results, right?  Sometimes I do that at my desk.  Sometimes I do that when speaking to the staff.  I chide my kids to pick up their rooms and clean the sinks in their bathroom.  I still trip over books, clothes and electronics when I go into their rooms at night.

Q: You still haven't answered my first question.

A: Look...I've done this work for 38 years.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm very passionate about it.  But recently, I've grown bored with writing about the same stuff over and over.  And now, I want to turn this Blog into one that I can write what I'm thinking about.  Or, as in this post, what moves me.  I can't remember what I was doing when I ran across this video by Mik Htims.  (Even the name interests you, right?)

Q: Aren't you afraid that you'll turn off a lot of people who come here looking for specific information about volunteer or work abroad?

A: No.

Q: Um. OK. Why?

A: Because I think researching volunteer and work abroad programs on the Internet requires a level of trust when you consider what you're reading online at a particular site.  And deciding to work with an organization (like GeoVisions) requires a huge degree of trust.  And that has always come from below the cloud, not in the cloud.  That will never change.  So if people come here and see something that resonates with them, there is a connection.  And my life has been built on making those connections.  GeoVisions is about making connections.  Between volunteers and communities.  Teachers and students.  Employers and students seeking seasonal jobs.  Connecting cultures.

Q: Connecting people, jobs and cultures is cool. With all the troubles in the world, how do you know you can keep doing that?

A:  When Steve Jobs addressed the graduating class of 2005 at Stanford University, he said, "You can't connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path."

Q: I see.  What I still don't see is the connection (your word, not mine) to a theme of abandoned insane asylums.

A: Watch this stunning video.  The music is from the movie Inception.  Hans Zimmer wrote this piece entitled "Time" and it is a perfect match to the photos in this film.  In the comments section below, someone...anyone...tell me where it takes you.  Turn up the speakers on your computer.  Shut your door.  Make the room quiet.  Start the film.  It is only four and a half minutes...hardly a tick on the clock of your day.  Tell me where you've gone when the film is over.  Then, please tell me how you're connected.  I'll bet it has nothing to do with abandoned insane asylums.

 

Want to read other posts by Randy LeGrant that has nothing to do with volunteer abroad and work abroad but were highly read on our Blog?

You Say Goodbye...I Say Hello (3,562 reads)

At The Summit Of Pike's Peak (3,112 reads)

Tags: Randy LeGrant, Connecting

Volunteer and Work Abroad Friends I've Never Met

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Mon, Jul 01, 2013

The last time I wrote a Blog Post was February 26.  Over four months this Blog has been dormant.  That's embarrassing.  Not that people stand in line to read my Blog...it is just embarrassing that I'd go over 4 months and not write, which had to leave some people looking to travel with GeoVisions a bit odd.  "They have a Blog, but they don't write."

I also have a personal Blog.  Black Belt White Hair is the name of that Blog.  I've left it dormant also.

You guys, if you ever have the time, need to jolt me into writing something...if even to ask if I'm still alive.

So a friend of mine I have never met put this graphic on his wall.  Short story is that this FaceBook friend of mine in Malaysia is an incredible TaeKwon-Do practitioner.  He is amazing. And we have never met, although we both practice TaeKwon-Do and we belong to the Global TaeKwon-Do Federation.  One day we will meet, though.  We must.

Online Friends

So here is the graphic he had on his wall.  I apologize for the graphic being fuzzy.  I think when you download graphics or photos from FaceBook, they don't turn out so well.  But, in this case just squint your eyes and it will look better, I hope.

How many people do you "know" online and you will never meet?  But you just "know" they are good? For us here at GeoVisions, that accounts for most of the people who decide to volunteer or work abroad with us. They are good, they are warm, they are giving. And we rarely meet most of them.

Recently I had an email exchange with a competitor of ours.  Cross Cultural Solutions. Steve Rosenthal is the head of that great organization and we just decided, having never met, that we should.  And I'm positive that one of these days we will.  But we both have a great deal of respect for one another and it's just from "knowing" them online or in writing.

I did get to meet someone for the first time in person last month.  We had exchanged emails and ideas and I knew this was one great guy.  And after we met (we both drive a little over an hour to meet) I knew this meeting was worth the drive and the time and now I've seen him a couple of times and he is awesome.  Both of us share the same passion for service to others.  He's Dave Santuli from United Planet.  Great organization and a great guy with incredible vision and warmth.

So I thought I'd start my Blogging career up again, and I thought this would be a decent subject for my first post after 4 months.

If you're reading this, I hope one day we get to meet.  Until then, maybe you'll comment on this Blog or my other one.  Or maybe you'll travel to Connecticut and visit me here in our GeoVisions office and let me show you our town of Guilford that is turning 375 years old.

Until then...count yourself as one of the friends I have never met.  I hope you're enjoying the summer.

Tags: Guilford, Randy LeGrant

The Next Five Things I Wish I Knew When I Decided To Travel Abroad

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Tue, Feb 12, 2013

Yesterday I wrote a post about The Five Things I Wish I Knew When I Decided To Travel Abroad. In all honesty, the post was "The Ten Things..." but I typed so much, no one was going to read such a long Blog post.  So I cut it in half.  Here are the other five:

6. It's Impossible To Travel Alone
I'm not good around a lot of people.  I'm very shy and I have to work hard to be chatty with strangers.  But what I discovered quickly is that whether or not the person you sit next to on the plane chats you up or someone in a bar in Madrid sits down next to you and starts talking…you're meeting people. Taxi drivers love to practice their English and someone in the hotel bar has always missed their flight. The police officer giving you directions will usually ask where in the States you're from. You cannot travel alone, even if you try. Don't fight it. Listen and learn. Enjoy the random acts of good directions or the discussion of politics. Some of my fondest travel memories involve total strangers.

7. It's Impossible To Make People At Home Understand
35 mm color slidesIn my early days of travel, I took hundreds of photos. Back in those days they were "slides" and basically they consisted of film set between a small frame of cardboard. You put them in Kodak slide trays of 80 to 120 and started showing them in a darkened room. My family really could have cared less…they had never traveled anywhere to speak of. And people who had traveled somewhere had not traveled where I had been and they just didn't get all the little innuendos in my photos. When I tried to talk to them about people I met, meals I had eaten and artifacts in museums…all of that fell on well-meaning, but disinterested ears and minds.

Entire chapters are written for returning students…a basic cause of reentry culture shock or reverse culture shock as we call it in our profession.  The University of Iowa has a great article about Reverse Culture Shock.

How can you cope if you are back from doing something that changed and shaped your life and the feeling is that no one really gets it?

What works for me is that I take photos and videos and document my travels really well. You will find a few of my travel journals on our Community Pages.  A couple over on Everlater.  Some here at my home.

Then I turn them into a book at the Apple Store or some other place and use travel quotes to set off the photos from my daily journal. Someone is going to pick up that book at your house or read online and start enjoying all those interesting travel quotes and then start asking some questions. because using quotes draws people in, and once you hook them and they become vested...you will attract a lot more interest in your travels.

8. Knowing The Purpose Of Your Journey Brings Great Results
When the intentions of your trip are supported by a "why" that has meaning, you will find a way to bring them to life on your travels. Making the most of our journey is a matter of continuing to remember why you have chose to do this trip in the first place.

One of the best things about working at GeoVisions is listening to everything people want to accomplish on their GeoVisions program.

In the end focused and persistent effort along the way will help you enjoy a successful trip. When your travel efforts are driven by your purpose, you can keep enjoying exciting trips for a lifetime.

9. A Positive Vision Makes A Big Difference
One of our most read posts is "Think Traveling Or Volunteering Abroad Is Too Expensive? Think Again."  Our Social Media Manager, Alexandra, wrote that post.

If you envision a trip as achievable, it will be. Envision yourself packing, buying your plane ticket and arriving at your destination. Hold that image firmly in your mind and each step will be in this direction. If I want something badly enough, I tack a picture of it above my desk so I see it everyday, all day.

If you choose crowd funding, this positive vision makes your online profile believable, and you'll attract bigger donations.  Knowing you are going to do this project gets you half way there.

map of places I've traveled10. Your Journey Is Ultimately What You Make Of It
There is no such thing as a perfect trip. What does exist is a continuous series of imperfect travel moments filled with infinite possibilities and opportunities for you to interpret them and do with them as you please. What you don't accomplish on this trip can be accomplished on the next one.

You can pave the road you travel with frustration that you "didn't do it all" or "I am not finished." Either way you are going to arrive at the same destination. The only question is, do you want to arrive there with a frown or a smile?

 

So here, then, are the Ten Things I Wish I Knew When I Decided To Travel Abroad. I hope breaking the post into two didn't confuse anyone.

Last week I showed some of our staff my scrapbook of my first trip abroad.  1976.  They were amazed that I had kept the itinerary, photos, and even currency in that old scrapbook these past almost 37 years.  I keep it because it reminds me of what got me to today, and why today is so important and why each trip is something to share.

I'd love to read your comments and ideas about things you wish you knew before you made your first trip abroad.  We have space below if you feel up to sharing.

Tags: Make Something Happen, Randy LeGrant

The First Five Things I Wish I Knew When I Decided To Travel Abroad

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Mon, Feb 11, 2013

I took my first trip abroad in 1976. As an American, that was our Bicentennial year and so my passport was in celebration of that fact. I still have it.

Since then, I've traveled abroad almost every year and multiple times in a year. Even as I grow older, I look forward to traveling as a renewal. I'm eager to go, I'm eager to return.

When my father was alive and he would travel to visit me, the first thing he would do was put his small travel bag by the back door. "This way I won't forget it when I leave." That was almost before he hugged me "hello." He was preparing for his departure the moment of his arrival. Now I get it. We all want to enjoy our trip, of course. We all look forward to our "stuff" and getting back into some kind of routine at the end.

All of this made me want to come up with a list of 10 Things I Wish I Knew When I Decided To Travel Abroad.  For brevity, I am sharing my top five things in this post, and tomorrow I'll share the next five things.

Teaching English abroad doesn't have to be a lonely adventure.

1. Uncertainty About The Trip Is Certain
Will I make it to the airport on time? Did I pack everything? Will there be a delay, which will cause me to miss a connecting flight? When I land, will anyone speak my language? How much time, really, do I have to make my connection and is it easy? What kind of transport will I use when I get to my final destination? Can I trust the taxis? Do I have enough cash in the local currency?  Will I know how to buy a ticket on the train? What do I do with this luggage while I wait 6 hours to check into my hotel? Will it be safe? If I'm staying with a host family (most GeoVisions' programs) will they like me? Will I like them? Is the house noisy? Will I like the food? Is there ANY privacy? The Internet: Do they have access?

Do you know 100% of our participants go over these questions, and more? It's normal. Nothing about travel and cultural exchange is certain. And, isn't that ONE reason you're traveling? What other uncertainties do you think about? You can write them in the Comments section below.

2. Your Itinerary Is A Circle
Even if you start in one place and end up in quite another…you will come home eventually. But your itinerary is far more than a list of places you will you see and a list of places you will go.

This is how all of my itineraries begin:  If you want to be rich, be generous. If you want to make friends, be friendly. If you want to be understood by others, take the time to truly understand them. If you want to be heard, listen.

If you want to have an interesting life, be interested the happenings around you, no matter where you are.

If you want the world to change, start with the one in the mirror.

I have learned that if I begin any trip with these words written down, it really doesn't matter if my plane is late, my taxi gets lost or if I miss a meal.

TaeKwon-Do tournament in New Jersey.3. Discipline Is The Mother Of All Virtues When You Travel
I am preparing to test for my 3rd Degree Black Belt in TaeKwon-Do. I have five Gold medals in International competition.  (And, I get to train with 3 of my children...)  I lead my entire life by the Five Tenets of TaeKwon-Do. I manage GeoVisions by those same Five Tenets:

Courtesy
Integrity
Perseverance
Self Control
Indomitable Spirit

You don't have to kick high and break boards to live your life by these five tenets. You just have to live them.  They bring discipline into your life and the space needed to take a breath and "persevere" on.

4. You Have Full Control Of Your Fears
Your fear is 100% dependent on YOU for its survival, and it is the only thing standing between you and your travel goals. Deal with your fears; don’t let them deal with you. And know that 100% of the people who put their butts in an airplane seat are in the midst of controlling their fears about their trip. We're all in various stages, that's all.

In October 2012, I started my 39th year of professional travel. And still, I have fears to deal with when I travel.

5. Good Travel Buddies Are Priceless
Finding someone to travel with is easy. When I announce I'm headed to [blank] for a week to 10-days, I have a line out my office door of people who want to tag along. Especially my kids.

I love to travel with my wife, Rebecca. Other than her disdain for museums (and I love them…) she makes a fantastic travel partner. She doesn't look it, but she is very adventurous when she travels and will hike mountains and volcanoes like a pro.

My 2nd favorite travel buddy is someone I work with and don't see enough. Ray is our station chief in Paris. He travels easy and light. He loves good food and good wine and when he travels he is jolly all the time. I never pass on an opportunity to travel with Ray.

Even if you depart by yourself...keep any eye out for someone to travel with.  Your trip will bloom.

==========

Do you have comments about these five things I wish I'd known when I started traveling?  If so, please use the Comments section right below.

Tomorrow I'm going over the next five:

It's Impossible To Travel Alone

It's Impossible To Make People At Home Understand

Knowing The Purpose Of Your Journey Brings Great Results

A Positive Vision Makes A Big Difference

Your Journey Is Ultimately What You Make Of It

See you back here tomorrow!

Tags: The Well Prepared Traveler, Make Something Happen, Randy LeGrant

"The Path Less Traveled" Is Less Painful Today

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Fri, Apr 06, 2012

Here we are on the evening of Passover, and it is also Good Friday.  It's Easter Weekend here in the U.S. as well.  Reflecting on these events happening this weekend, I wanted to update you on our teacher in Italy, whom I asked you to support last week in her deepest time of need.

a thank you message drawn on the beachFirst of all, thank you to all of you who took a moment to send her some positive thoughts.  Even if, when you read the post you thought, "that's awful," I want to thank you.  My wife was once asked if I am a religious person.  She quickly answered "no, but he is spiritual."  And I suspect that came out in my last blog post...I do think positive thoughts make a huge difference in life.

We received comments from around the world.  We received emails and phone calls of support.  Some from places I could not have imagined when I wrote the piece.

I have to share with you that our teacher was in Intensive Care (a term we use in America for a hospital ward with the most gravely ill patients) and she and her family had to take it a day at a time.

I remember talking to Lisa, who handles insurance matters in our office, and I simply could not hold back the tears.  Obviously I felt horrible for our teacher.  And I kept thinking about how devastated her host family was feeling, and about how the children in the family simply could not comprehend was was happening or how they would deal with all of this.  I felt all of this emotion for the host school and all of the students, who's world one-day was beautiful and exciting, and then next was uncertainty and not understanding how good things can go quickly wrong.  I felt horrible for her family here in the U.S. who would simply never think about Italy the same way again.

Today, as we start this amazing holiday weekend, I wanted to write and tell you that our teacher, after 10+ days of Intensive Care, has been moved into a regular hospital room.  The virus is responding to the medication and slowly leaving her body.  She still has a very serious bout of pneumonia.  So she is not totally out of the woods.  But each day there is small improvement.  Her host family has been to see her and have been able to touch her and speak with her, giving new meaning right now to Conversation Corps!

Thank you, each one of you, for your thoughts.  Your kind words.  Your support.  For your help, no matter how slight or far away. In banding together to mentally support this incredible woman and her family...immediate and hosting.

Have a wonderful weekend, no matter how you celebrate it.

Tags: Randy LeGrant, Travel Safety, Travel Insurance

"The Path Less Traveled" Is Sometimes Very Painful

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Thu, Mar 29, 2012

I am going to write a post about something most Execs don't write about.  And I'm going to ask for your help at the same time.

Most organizations don't go public with information like this, but if you follow GeoVisions at all, we really don't fit the mold of "most organizations."

We have a teacher in critical condition in Italy. If you believe in prayer, she could use one.  If you believe in good, positive thoughts, she could use some.  If you believe in positive energy, she needs lots of it.  Please.

The volunteer teacher I'm writing about is 65 years old and she has done an amazing job.  Her community, school and host family just instantly fell in love with her.  She brought many years of teaching experience with her to Italy and a never-ending supply of love for children.  Her enjoyment of the English language was contagious and kids were so excited to get to her class.

Our volunteer teacher became seriously ill, and she is very, very critical.  To the point her family has now come to Italy to her bedside.

The community and school leaders I have spoken to do not have enough words to describe this teacher.  She went to Italy with the intention of making a difference in the community where she was to teach.  Her students love her and her host family goes to the hospital each day, hoping to see her.  But so far they have not been able to go to her room.  She is that ill.

We heard that "people in the community had to ask her 100 times what she needed, before our teacher would ever ask for anything for herself.  She never wanted to worry or bother others, or intrude in their lives."

I will one day write a post about making sure the organization you go with has the very best insurance to cover these things, and getting family to the bedside and intensive care.  But this is not the time for that.

These are tough days here in our offices.  But not nearly so as it is in a small hospital room in Italy.  And we cannot forget that there are students in a small school who miss their visiting teacher.  A host family that doesn't understand.  I'm writing about an amazing woman who left her family in the U.S. for a rural community in eastern Italy, to simply do good work.

I've been doing this amazing work for 38 years.  I, too, was a teacher in a rural school and community.  I know how attached you can get to students and their parents and the community in general.  We do this work because it is a celebration of life and cultures.  A celebration of a common passion, driven by unequaled core values.  Those of us who do this for a living, and our teachers and volunteers choose to take "the path less traveled."

Take just a minute, please?

Tags: Randy LeGrant

GeoVisions And The Five Tenets Of TaeKwon-Do

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Mon, Dec 12, 2011
I bring my TaeKwon-Do to work everyday.  For the longest time, I had my 1st Degree Black Belt certificate hanging on my office wall.  Then a few years later I tested and was awarded my 2nd Degree Black Belt and I thought hanging that certificate up with the other would be just a little too much, so I took the 1st Degree certificate down.  We have an amazing Conversation Corps poster, incorporating a tutor's journal entry and some host family and travel photos to take it's place.

The LeGrants in a TaeKwon-Do photoGeoVisions has a lot of family involved, and so does TaeKwon-Do.  My son, Christopher, heads up our west coast operation.  He's a 1st Degree Black Belt.  And my daughter, Alexandra, helps us with some social media and she's a Green Belt.  My two youngest children take out the trash, and empty our recycling bins…both of them are 1st Degree Black Belts.  Here is a photo of four of us at a recent tournament bringing home 8 medals.  18 years combined training.

The reason I bring TaeKown-Do to work everyday is not because it's fun, or a great diversion…both true in their own respect.  It's because we run GeoVisions by the Five Tenets of TaeKwon-Do.  I have been very successful at weaving those five tenets into every aspect of my life (personal and professional) and I've been very successful at getting GeoVisions to the place where it is without effort to weave all Five Tenets into our organization.

For any reader who is not familiar with the Five Tenets of TaeKwon-Do, they are

Courtesy
Integrity
Perseverance
Self-Control
Indomitable Spirit

What do these five tenets have to do with volunteer abroad and teach abroad?

Courtesy
"Enduring respect for and consideration of self and others. Politeness. Humility."  We know there are many organizations offering volunteer abroad programs and others with teaching jobs abroad.  We know the Internet contains websites you probably should not trust and at the very best you should approach as suspect.  We can start by being courteous.  We respect that you are willing to spend your hard-earned money and your precious time to go abroad on one of our programs.  At every touch point we are going to define courtesy for you.

integrityIntegrity
"Steadfast adherence to a strict moral and ethical code. Honesty. Loyalty."  Followers of this Blog know I write about some form of Integrity all the time.  I get lots of Twitter comments about my rants on volunteer abroad or voluntourism.  In my view, volunteer abroad has gone to the dogs.  I'm embarrassed that people who really do want to make a difference when they travel would bump into some of the organizations I see offering these programs.  And I don't see my counterparts writing similar posts, nor has even one of them defended the actions of our industry. I think I'm writing to the atmosphere and I also think I'm cranky because I've dedicated 37 years to this…and I look around and hang my head in shame at some of these characters masquerading as volunteer abroad organizations.

Nothing in business is more important as having a STRICT moral and ethical code.  At the same time, consumers also must have integrity.  We'll be ethical, honest and loyal to you.  We'll do what we tell you we will do and we will stand by you, even after you return to your home after your project.  You must do the same.  We see integrity as a two-way street. Reciprocal.  After all, that's what business is.  It's a reciprocal relationship, and we work hard to earn your respect.

perseverancePerseverance
"To persist in an endeavor or undertaking in spite of counter-influences, opposition or discouragement. Dedication."  Ugh.  Try running a company in this financial environment.  Try tracking 7 foreign currencies each day.  We have to keep track of ever-changing visa regulations (the visa you use to get into a country, not the visa you use to pay your bill) and government regulations.  Our Work and Travel program is regulated by the U.S. State Department and just wading through all the new government regulations is like trying to walk in quick-sand.

I mentioned in my last post that we had twice the number of competitors in 2011 as we did in 2010.  We chose innovation as our way of persevering.  We refuse to compete on price.  We will put our heads together and innovate our way through the regs and the economy and the ones who "pile on."  Just last week we found a website in Morocco and a website in France who copied our Conversation Corps program exactly word for word.  The week before that an organization in China simply copied our pages…company colors, typeface and all.

Self-Control
"The ability of a person to exert their will over the inhibitions, impulses, emotions or desires of their body or self. Patience. Discipline."  2012 is going to be a game-changer for GeoVisions.  Our new programs (no one else is offering them, but it won't take long for many to copy them) will move us forward and enable even more people to volunteer abroad in a way no one ever thought possible before.  Our staff is positioned to provide stellar customer service and to spend a lot of time with our volunteers and teachers.  We want to make certain you meet your goals.  We have learned how to keep a vigilant eye on the voluntourism industry, and keep our heads down and move our volunteers forward all at the same time.  That comes with being flexible and strong…TaeKwon-Do traits (no tenets).

quotesIndomitable Spirit
"Having the right attitude and maintaining inner strength regardless of winning or losing. Not allowing one’s principles to be broken, defeated, or conquered. Bravery. Courage."  Write what you will.  Say what you will.  These are our principles.  If you have a problem, call me.  I'm the guy at the top.  You want to whine on the Internet?  Fine.  You want something fixed?  Call me.  My direct line is +1 (203) 453-5838.  When you hear the recording (a very nice British lady) just press the 1 button on your telephone followed by the # button.  That will ring at my desk.  If I'm there, I'll pick it up and fix what it is that has you troubled, quickly.  If I'm not there, leave a message.  Unless I'm on an overnight flight to another country, I'll return your call within 24 hours.  You have my direct line in this Blog Post as my word.

Of course, if you want to call and tell me how great things are…I'd love to hear that too.

These are the Five Tenets of TaeKwon-Do.  These are the adopted Five Tenets of GeoVisions.  You can bet your lungs on them.

Tags: Volunteering Abroad, Randy LeGrant

Is Voluntourism Really A Compromised Industry?

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Tue, Nov 29, 2011
On 24 November, cnngo.com ran an article by Richard Stupart entitled "Voluntourism does more harm than good."  The tag line read, "Orphan-huggers create a market for orphans; well-builders take work from locals; and other things ethical travelers should know."

I'm going to approach Mr. Stupart's article from two perspectives:
  1. He's right.
  2. But the focus really should be on "The result has been a boom in tour companies offering voluntourism opportunities in a wide range of destinations, catering to all levels of commitment."
cashing in on voluntourismI have noticed that everyone is cashing in on Voluntourism (including the press) and I wish some great writer out there would do an article on the damage THAT causes.  Bugger the "goodie-two-shoes" articles. Those people are just there and will insert themselves into a situation abroad and at home because they simply have nothing else to do.  Resorts, cruise lines and hotels offer 2-3 hour voluntourism projects and call it sustainable tourism.

Mr. Stupart sums it up nicely and as accurately as I've ever seen it put.  "There can be no easy decisions when attempting to weigh up how to volunteer, or whether to volunteer at all.  Nevertheless, there is a world of difference between ill-considered decisions taken for the purpose of stroking a traveler's ego, and subjective decisions to volunteer after properly considering as much of the moral and practical detail of your engagement as possible."

For quite sometime, GeoVisions has provided a document, "Where Does My Money Go" in answer to that exact question by some of our volunteers.  And on many of our program pages, we actually provide a list of items that get paid with a volunteer's money.  This activity came with trying to be "all things transparent."

How wonderful would it be if all of the responsible voluntourism providers (really, there are a few) wrote their own document explaining why volunteers participate on their projects and precisely (measured objectively) what good comes from it.
  • How will your work be more beneficial than sending money?
  • If you and your friends invested money in a project abroad (after doing research and interviewing project directors), would that be more sustainable?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the highest, how much of wanting to go abroad is all about your ego?  Or that you had horrible parents?
  • Why aren't you voluntouring in your own country?
  • Why are you taking a tax deduction on volunteering abroad? Why aren't you spending money in your own country, and giving up the tax deduction to pay your fair share?
  • How much research did you do about where you're going and why you should even be there?

Those are questions we have been asking ourselves here at GeoVisions over the last year.  And what are the answers? 

When we answered these questions we closed 50 of our voluntourism projects.  We have only a few now and most of them are hands-on medical for people going into or already in the medical field.  We have a last few remaining "long tails" and most will be fading away over the course of 2012.

But GeoVisions is in business, right?  So what are we doing instead?

two people communicatingGlad you asked.  We invented programs that focus on cultural exchange first.  Then, if you want, you can do some volunteering like teaching a family conversational English or helping kids with their homework.  Something that first of all exchanges two cultures, something that then focuses on communicating with one another.  And finally, something that allows for a little local volunteering and sharing.

Of course our most innovative programs were copied.

Last year I even saw 8 volunteer abroad senders providing the same program in India, all sending to the same receiver.  All of the programs were packaged differently, all charging different prices.  Never let it be said that some of my friendly competitors have but one brain shared between them all.

2 years ago GeoVisions could market our programs with two online search engines (we refuse to participate with Google Ad Words).  Now we have a minimum of four additional search engines for volunteer and teach abroad.  There are a multitude of online review sites…mini TripAdvisor sites trying to ratchet up online traffic and therefore dollars.

GeoVisions has double the competition we did from 2009.  Double the senders, and probably more than double the receivers.

There are operators who start their Google Ads with, "Volunteer Abroad For $160" and "Volunteer Abroad - $180. American volunteers wanted for affordable volunteer trips abroad!"

When we all cash in, we ethically bankrupt ourselves.

When you look for ways to make money from an industry rather than looking for ways to serve that industry, you add to the problem.  What am I writing?  You ARE the problem.

holding the world in your hands

When you use price to round up self-serving volunteers to attend flim-flam projects, you add to the problem. When you copy programs and other people's ideas, you add to the problem.  When you don't belong to global organizations focused on building best practices, you add to the problem.

I have heard a few of my competitors say, "More volunteer abroad senders?  Great, that means more volunteers out in the world."  To that I reply, "Hogwash."  The industry is watered-down because of those who have piled on and thought this might be an easy way to prey on well-meaning people and cash in.  And on this, I am being very kind.

I continue to read publicly that "Voluntourism will likely always remain a compromised industry."  Mr. Stupart even wrote that last week.

I do think it is interesting to note, as I end this post, that Save The Children does not allow volunteers on their projects.  That is to say they do not allow you to call up, and explain that you want to go volunteer in Ethiopia on one of their end child hunger projects.  You can volunteer in their Westport, CT or Washington, DC offices in marketing, finance and social media.  But you're not allowed on a Save the Children project as a volunteer.

I hope, if you're reading this, you are not asking yourself, "why"?

Tags: Responsible Travel, Volunteer Locally, Why Do I Have To Pay To Volunteer, Tax Deductions, Volunteering Abroad, Volunteer/Work Abroad Industry Updates, Randy LeGrant