GeoVisions Blog

Teach English In Thailand - A Woman's View - Part III

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Wed, Jul 17, 2013

This is installment 3 of 3 of Carla's Blog post on a woman’s perspective, living and working in Thailand. Feel free to email Carla at: gocarla1@umbc.edu

Carla Gott teaching English in ThailandWe come from far-off countries with different ways of doing things. So it helps to recognize local culture and norms. These can read like a regime of do's and don'ts, but recognizing basic courtesies will help bring you quiet acknowledgment from folk you pass by, and easily offered help on the smallest matter when you want it.

So:

Cover up - please wear a bra at all times. Thailand isn't California, and it makes sense to recognize different attitudes to what is good and bad taste.

Being topless on the beach is a no-no. Do not wear tank tops or shorts when visiting temples. 

You will be teaching young boys and girls, so be sure you don't reveal cleavage and thighs in the classroom. It might seem conservative to you, but you are bringing to your classroom the best of the West - not what the kids' parents might think is the worst.

It is recommended that you buy teachers' skirts and a plain white blouse. They are very cheap and will never get you into trouble with or offend your co-workers. You can find them in any street market for less than $5 dollars. 

More generally, don't do things you wouldn't do back home.

That can be tough, given your new-found freedom. You will want to experiment a little bit, let your hair down. However, public intoxication, for example, is never ok. You have to remember that you are in a different country; foreigners already have a reputation for being potentially disturbing.

And the locals are not always angels - so don't walk around with that $1,000 in your pocket. Pick pocketing does happen quite often especially in areas flooded with tourists so leave your passport at home and carry a copy instead.

If you accept a drink from a stranger, make sure it's a bottled or canned beer that you see opened.

Thais have a well-earned reputation for being endearingly and genuinely friendly. If someone touches your arm, it’s not sexual harassment.

However, Thai men tend to be shy comparatively and certainly respectful. And it’s ok to have dinner with strangers - I do it all the time! It is often unavoidable. Street food is cheap, tables are often crowded. And when eating among friends, it is the norm for everyone to help themselves from common bowls of soup or plates of chicken. So you will quickly learn to share food, and in the process pick up a few words in Thai and make new friends.

Getting around: transport can be remarkably cheap, particularly buses and communal taxis. Tuk-tuks are fun, can be scary, and can be expensive. Make sure you ask the price for your destination before you get on.  Motorbikes are cheaper, but can take some getting used to. If you reckon yours is going too fast, tap on the driver's shoulder and wave him to stop or slow down. Prices are generally negotiated before you get on the bike. After a few days, you will have a fair idea of the general going rates.

Taxis are generally safe. In Bangkok, they are metered, and are not unduly expensive - but make sure the meter is always on.

If you are taking a cab after midnight, you can negotiate prices with cabdrivers. If you encounter a moody driver (it can happen at the end of their shifts, when they have to change with another driver at a predesignated time and place), you can always take the next one. Still, as in any city, it always makes sense to play safe. So it is recommended that you sit in the back. Play with your phone, text a friend. Pretend to be talking to someone or better yet, talk to someone! Have your address in hand.

And last but not least - shopping. Bangkok has phenomenal shopping malls. Some are more glitzy than others, but they all have bargains, and many have top-end international brand-name outlets. If you want to spend $100 in Zara, you can. If you want to spend $10 on an entire outfit at a street market, you can - and can often haggle the price even lower.

However, it is difficult to find good bras and underwear in street markets, so pack light - but pack wisely.

You will have a one-month break in October. Your long break will be in March – May. There are plenty of activities to do during break.  They include volunteering across Southeast Asia, English camps, acting gigs or relaxing in the islands. This might be the first time you will be traveling solo since you arrived in Thailand - it doesn't mean you will be traveling alone. You will meet plenty of people along your way who will become friends and traveling companions. And you will already have plenty of experiences to share with them.

You can email Carla directly, or enter your comments or questions below.  We have embedded three videos you can watch about the Teach in Thailand experience with GeoVisions.  Two of those videos are by Carla Gott.

Tags: Teach Abroad, Responsible Travel, Travel Safety, Thailand

Black Hole Tourism Or Volunteering To Teach Abroad In The Desert?

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Wed, Sep 05, 2012

Dry River Bed in FeynanTake a look at this photo.  What do you see?

Let me ask a better question.  What DON'T you see?

The obvious answer here is that you don't see buildings, streets, cars, animals or people.  You also don't see smiling volunteers with shovels who have just pretended to save the world through volunteering.

You are looking at a dry river bed in the Dana Biosphere Reserve, which covers 300km of land, making it the largest reserve in Jordan.

Hard to imagine, by looking at this lonely dry river bed, Dana Biosphere Reserve hosts a wide array of flora and fauna.  Over 800 plant species thrive within the reserve, three of which are unique to Dana.  449 different animals have been recorded, including threatened species such as the sand cat, Syrian wolf and spiny-tailed lizard.

AGeoVisions volunteer in Dana Reservend because everyone likes to rely upon photos of happy volunteers doing great work, we don't want to be left out.  So here you go.  This is a photo of one of our happy volunteers doing great work in Feynan.  No...really.  It's one of our volunteers on the program caught doing his work.  Welcome to the GeoVisions' Conversation Partner at an Eco-Lodge program in Jordan.

Before you read further, this is where we put in the fine print.  You can't go as a group and maybe you can go as a couple. That depends on a lot of factors.  You can take your laptop and your mobile phone.  But it will be a rare occurance if they work.

Still interested?

We hope so.  We need to keep a full rotation of GeoVisions' tutors at the Feynan Ecolodge.  The hotel staff and local Bedouin community are relying upon GeoVisions to bring volunteers (and only 1 or 2 at a time) to the Ecolodge to tutor the hotel staff in English and to tutor the local Budouin youth in English as well.

Constructed in 2005, the Feynan Ecolodge lies at the western edge of the Dana Biosphere Reserve.  The ecolodge is owned by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature and is the first of its kind in Jordan.

On this GeoVisions program the volunteer you see above has an unparalleled opportunity to experience Jodan's wilderness, teach its native people English, which they have requested to learn, explore its ancient history side by side with the locals, with a minimal impact on the environment.

Road to Feynan LodgeFly to Jordan and get picked up by our staff.  We will drive you to Amman where you will stay at a hotel.  During your 2 or 3 days in Amman you will have a tour and receive a formal orientation about Jordan, the Middle East and your volunteer project at Feynan Ecolodge.  Oh...more fine print.  You won't fly to Feynan.  You won't go by luxurious motor coach.  This is your ride to the desert and Feynan Ecolodge--your GeoVisions volunteer project for 1, 2 or 3 months.  And the photo below is the prize at the end of this road.

Nested in the hills of Feynan lies the EcolodgeDo you see it?  Right there on the far left side of this incredible photo.  The Ecolodge.  Your home and your volunteer project.

Hailed as one of the top fifty ecolodges in the world by National Geographic Adventure Magazine, the solar powered Feynan Ecolodge offers the most developed eco-experience in Jordan; an experience made possible by a unique partnership between EcoHotels and the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, a Jordanian NGO devoted to the protection of the Kingdom’s finest natural landscapes.

Feynan EcolodgeWhat will you do at Feynan on GeoVisions' Conversation Partner program? Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to share your language with the staff of Feynan Ecolodge on a daily basis.  Your primary reason for being there is to provide English conversation. The staff likes to have six, 2-hour sessions each week of English instruction.

GeoVisions’ Conversation Partners going out to Feynan go to a location without Internet or cell service. The primary reason for going is to teach English to the local artisans, the staff of the ecolodge and to volunteer in the local Bedouin school.  If these people learn English, the drivers can earn more tips to take care of their families, the room cleaners can be promoted to other positions...even the front desk.  Guides can have English conversations with guests and earn more tips.  The artisan women can converse in English, explain their crafts, and earn a better living. The work these volunteer tutors do improves the lives of hundreds of people, forever.

Not only do these volunteers give their time and their money, they give up their iPhones and laptops for 1 to 3 months and volunteer to disconnect from the world for the privilege to connect to these local people for no other reason but to improve life and strengthen families in Feynan.

Enjoy this great 4 minute video shot by the staff at Feynan.


Tags: Conversation Partner, Responsible Travel, Jordan

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

Success In Travel Abroad Leaves Clues (and trails...)

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Tue, Oct 25, 2011

This guest Blog post on traveling abroad on the cheap was written by Chris Davis, an avid world traveler.  Although he has traveled the world on very little money, the unique experiences are his riches.

"Go not where the path may lead but make your own path and leave a trail."

Surely we've all read this little motivational snippet, if not on a guidance counselor's wall then perhaps on a sticker attached to the bumper of a 1980's model Volvo.  For the backpackers of the world it's our unofficial creed, not for any altruistic reason, but rather it is usually the cheaper alternative to conventional methods of travel.  In my two years vagabonding and volunteering abroad around the globe I've compiled an exhaustive list of ways I have gone from point A to point B, some of them rather mundane and uneventful, and the others anything but.  When your legs and back are worn out from the rigors of traversing seemingly endless expanses of open road, any opportunities to grant those workhorse body parts a reprieve you don't pass up.  This strategy has provided me with the chance to bum a ride on the following: a rickshaw, llama, motorcycle sidecar, lorry, jet ski, fishing trawler, abandon rollerblades, snowmobile, rock band tour bus, elephant, M.A.S.H style helicopter and my favorite, a parking enforcement vehicle.  
    

cartoon backpackerWhen you live out of a backpack, your ability to improvise becomes your greatest asset.  The second most important thing you can do is learn how to pump the locals for information.  It doesn't matter how good or up to date your travel book is, as you discover that the best kept secrets are called that for a reason, and no one is going to put those types of nuggets in print so that the masses can ruin them.  It also doesn't matter how good your people skills are because at some point or another, you are going to get "taken" by the con-men and grifters that prey on the gullible and trusting.  It may be something as simple as getting shortchanged by a street vendor (imagine trying to calculate a handful of foreign currency that doesn't even have numbers) or something major like stashing your bag in what looks like a reputable locker kiosk at a train station.  If you ask me, it is a small price to pay for the rewards that come from interacting with the genuine articles.  I've been privy to midnight tours of ancient ruins not made available to the public, walking through corridors when everyone else is relegated to admiring from a distance.  Following the right leads will let you paraglide off the Pyrenees in an otherwise protected part of Spain's National Parks.  For the "foodies" in the audience, there is no better way to get a taste of local cuisine than being invited to a wedding or dining with the staff of a restaurant after they are closed.  For music buffs like myself, watching the Vienna Philharmonic sharpen their performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is a memory that I'm sure will be the fading light on my deathbed.  To think I never would have gotten to experience any of those things if I hadn't gone against my better judgment makes me pause, as balancing adventure seeking with personal safety is never easy, but you do get better at it as time goes on.  

the path less takenGetting off the beaten path means more than just avoiding the tourist pop culture carnival in favor of more unique interplay, it also provides the traveler with a chance to see the less visible part of a country.  Anyone can Google images of Machu Picchu and what you get back will be what you can take with your own camera on a hike up to that famous Inca Trail hotspot.  So few take the extra hour to tackle the more treacherous climb up Huayna Picchu, which will reward its conquerers with stunning views of the Andes and provide you with a photo op that will make you the envy of your less grizzled travel companions.  When you think of Italy, a slide show of sorts probably runs through your mind as images of the leaning tower of Pisa, the Colosseum, canals of Venice and the statue of David scroll by.  While there is certainly gratification in seeing these impressive human achievements in living color, I wouldn't trade it for the weeks I spent roaming the coastline of the Adriatic and Ionian Seas.  Contrary to popular belief, Greece does not have a monopoly on scenic, white washed cliff side villas, as a stroll through the Apulian city of Ostuni will reveal.  After you have soaked in that bit of paradise, continue westward towards the region of Calabria to see what Tropea and Scilla have to offer you by means of inspiring panoramas.  If you find yourself not wanting to leave, you aren't alone.  Just file it away in the folder marked ,"Possible Retirement Locations."  Seeing as how I have trumpeted the virtues of straying off the path, it's only fair that I offer you some warning of where venturing off the trail will probably get you into trouble.  There are the obvious locals such as anywhere the overnight temperatures can only be recorded with instruments that use industrial grade antifreeze.  Any of the six Axis of Evil countries qualify if you happen to find yourself near one of their borders, and unless you are a Sadist, there really is nothing of interest to risk your neck over.  The Great Australian Outback still has large areas of uncharted terrain and it will most likely stay that way; do not give into the temptation to try out your novice surveying skills.  The unfortunate aftermath of the Vietnam war continues to leave its mark on unsuspecting Cambodians by way of land mines.  Heed the warnings and proceed with caution.  

Off the beaten pathProcrastination is the enemy of potential vagabonders and "next year" is the battle cry of the adventureless.  Putting your life on hold for a month or two isn't going to hurt, I promise, and you may just find that upon your return, the life you knew wasn't really worth living.  Go with a group, go with a partner, go solo...just go!  And remember, when you come to a split in the woods, choose the path less taken.

Tags: Responsible Travel, The Well Prepared Traveler, Make Something Happen

Volunteer Abroad and Feel Fabulous Body and Soul. Seriously?

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Thu, Jul 21, 2011

I received this article about Sandals Resorts moving into the Voluntourism sector.  They do this by offering a 2-hour Reading Road Trip every Thursday from 09:00 until 11:00 when schools are in session.

In other words, you can go to a Sandals Resort and sign up (for $20 extra) to be taken to a school and "guests will be invited to engage small groups of children in active reading strategies."   Mercifully, "facilitators will be on hand to guide participants on how to engage and encourage children."

Happy handsHere at GeoVisions, we invented the Conversation Corps, and because we're committed to language, communication and cultural exchange, I have a few questions I'd love to see answered by someone at Sandals, please:

1.  This is for real?
2.  How do you teach kids to read in 2 hours? (Because if you can, I want to know about it.  As a former high school and college English instructor, I find this a fascinating breakthrough.)
3.  If you need facilitators on hand to guide participants on how to engage and encourage children, I'm assuming you're using unskilled volunteers to teach reading in those 2 hours...each week (not daily).
4.  Do the people who go to a Sandals resort think they can actually teach kids in Jamaica, Turks & Caicos, the Bahamas, Antigua, and Saint Lucia reading strategies in 2 hours, once a week?  And because of this "voluntourism program", do they truly leave your resorts feeling "fabulous -- body and soul?"

Because in the article, Adam Stewart is quoted as saying, “I expect guests who participate will leave our resorts feeling fabulous – body and soul.”

It's 2 hours.  On Thursdays, Dude.

Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco

"Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco announces the introduction of a new 'voluntourism' program that offers guests the opportunity to give back to the San Francisco community this summer. Beginning on May 17, guests who book the Bed and Breakfast package are encouraged to help pack care packages for women and children seeking refuge at the St. Vincent de Paul Society of San Francisco’s Riley Center, a nonprofit community organization dedicated to providing safe and confidential services for women in abusive relationships."

I cannot imagine it, but as the article reads, here is how the Four Seasons defines Voluntourism:  "A Care Package Kit will be provided to guests to assemble a bag for women and children at the Riley Center. Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco will provide inclusions for the kits including toothbrushes, toothpaste and toiletries. Guests will also receive a map of locations to purchase their own Care Package inclusions should they choose. For a personal touch, each guest may include an inspirational note or personalized bookmark. Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco will deliver assembled bags to the Riley Center on a regular basis."

lots of colorful hands in the airAs with Sandals, I have a few questions for the Four Seasons:

1.  Packing bags is voluntourism?
2.  How many women who are homeless, in danger, trying to flee abusive relationships are REALLY going to want to read an inspirational note (or use a personalized bookmark from a stranger) and from someone who can afford to stay at the Four Seasons?
3.  Can the guests deliver the care kit to the Riley Center?  The article reads that the guests assemble these packs at the hotel and then the hotel STAFF delivers the pack to the Riley Center.  Am I reading that correctly?  Where is the cultural immersion?  Am I missing something?
4.  What are the guests learning about homelessness in San Francisco?  What are they learning about abusive relationships and how, perhaps, they can go home and help in their local community?


Crystal Cruises Sets New Voluntourism Excursions for Fall New England, Canada, and Caribbean Sailings

LOS ANGELES, July 11, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- "Volunteer opportunities are offered gratis on every 2011 sailing, giving guests and crew an easy, hands-on way to "give back" to local communities, while simultaneously providing an alternative cultural perspective to traditional shore excursions."

"Participants may assist four aid organizations on five east coast Crystal Symphony voyages:

    Cradles to Crayons (9/16 and 10/8—Boston): Prepare vital winter items for homeless/low-income children, from schoolbags to warm coats and shoes.
    Romero House (9/30—St. John, New Brunswick): Provide kitchen aid for a housing community that assists less-fortunate locals and resettling refugees.
    Feed Nova Scotia (10/20—Halifax): Help food bank preparation/distribution.
    Donkey Sanctuary at the Antigua & Barbuda Humane Society (10/31—Antigua): Feed, clean, or walk the shelter's stray donkeys, dogs and cats."

"Launched in January, 2011, Crystal's 'You Care, We Care' program has been widely recognized as a trailblazing effort for socially responsible tourism."

Dear Crystal Cruises:  Trailblazing effort for socially responsible tourism?  Are you out of your minds?  Seriously...this is NOT trailblazing.  It's piling on.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest Crystal Cruises, The Four Seasons San Francisco and Sandals are using the term voluntourism because they have the misguided idea that is "the thing" to do.  In reality, they are misusing the word.

Guyvolunteer imagess...there are so many voluntourists out there going abroad for weeks and months doing sustainable work in communities and on projects and in some cases risking life and limb.  To use the Voluntourism catch phrase for what you're doing does an incredible disservice to so many thousands of selfless voluntourists.


If you feel I'm being too harsh, and if you feel like I'm being unfair...we have a comment section below and I would love for someone to prove me wrong.  Help me out here.

Tags: Responsible Travel, Volunteering Abroad, Volunteer/Work Abroad Industry Updates

Volunteering and Traveling Abroad Reality Check

Posted by Alexandra LeGrant on Tue, Mar 22, 2011
Most of us can be guilty of it.

Coming up with a fantasy in our head spawned from the excitement of embarking on a new worldly adventure, nurturing magnificent thoughts of exciting experiences and perfect encounters. We envision our host family to be everything we wished for from the best of our own families.  Whatever awkwardness is experienced in first meeting them is all very quickly overshadowed by their excellent cooking, perfect location, or their proficiency in our native language. We envision a happy, healthy family, a comfortable bed in a private room with a high level of cleanliness, we don’t think about missing our friends and family and we certainly don’t envision ourselves getting sick. In a perfect world, all those things would come true, but in reality our runaway imaginations can get the best of us and even set us up for a miserable experience abroad.

If you want to have the time of your life, don’t let your fairytale imagination set you up for failure by creating unrealistic expectations.  Perhaps this is the first time you are even traveling outside your home country, or maybe this isn’t your first rodeo, either way expecting too much out of the gates or going into your project with the notion that you can change the world in four weeks will ruin your experience all together.

Think of this as a friendly reality check before you embark on your journey with GeoVisions.

Hope your host family doesn't look like this.First, realize that meeting your host family for the first time might be a less than perfect experience.  Your new family may also be a little stressed anticipating your arrival, having prepared your room, cleaning up their home, trying to get their children to be on their best behavior, etc. Not to mention the stressors of cultural differences and taking in a near complete stranger into their home. Just remember, it is not all about you in this scenario, and it could take a week or so before you and your host family really start to hit it off. Just be patient, don’t be selfish and remember the reasons why you are there in the first place.

No one thinks about getting sick (physically or emotionally) when they are preparing for a trip abroad, and thoughts of the possibility are usually masked by excitement.  I’ve never heard anyone say ‘oh yes, I love it when I feel like I could just roll over and die’ but it is good to be prepared for the possibility of coming down with something. Being in a new country with new food, cooking styles, bacteria and so on can all make for a nasty storm in your digestive system.  Usually, this will pass once your body becomes accustomed to it’s new diet and regimen, but to be on the safe side make sure you have comprehensive medical and accidental insurance. With GeoVisions, this comes standard in your program fee, so it is one less thing you have to worry about if something really terrible happens. He must feel terrible!

Culture shock and homesickness can also be likely to affect you, especially if this is your first time abroad. Don’t worry, this is normal for a lot of people and will also pass in time once you start to feel more comfortable in your surroundings. The best way to get over culture shock and homesickness is to explore your new environment, not hide from it. Get out there and meet new people, have your host family show you a few of their favorite local spots and don’t spend hours on Skype with your family. Having them in the forefront of your mind will only make you miss them more and your comfortable safety zone back home.  Explore, explore, explore! That is what you are there for. Just a little 'finger' food.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, don’t expect to change the world through your volunteering experience. You want to head into your project full of enthusiasm and excitement, and the idea that what you are there to do is helping and contributing in some way, but you don’t want to have the unrealistic expectation that you can completely save an orphanage or an entire coastal beach’s endangered wildlife in a matter of weeks or even months. Feel confident that your presence and assistance is greatly appreciated even if you envision it as minimal. It is true that every helping hand makes a difference, even if you can’t see that difference right away. Know why GeoVisions uses the word “sustainable”?  Ongoing.  Get the connection?

Change takes time, and remember; "Travel guides us toward a better balance of wisdom and compassion - of seeing the world clearly, and yet feeling it truly. For seeing without feeling can obviously be uncaring; while feeling without seeing can be blind." ~PICO IYER

Tags: Teach Abroad, Responsible Travel, Reasons To Volunteer Abroad, The Well Prepared Traveler, Make Something Happen, Working For A Better World, Volunteering Abroad, Travel Safety

Feynan Eco Lodge in Jordan: 2 Conversation Partners Needed Each Month

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Mon, Jan 03, 2011

Filed under shameless self-promotion:

Feynan Eco LodgeWe need to staff 2 tutor positions at Feynan Eco Lodge in Jordan each month.  Um, starting NOW.

Sign up for 4, 6 or 8 weeks.  We don't even have the program page live on our website, but we will have soon.  Until then, enjoy this 4 minute video in High Def and email us right away or apply now if you are interested anytime in 2011.

Set against the glorious desert landscape, Feynan is a 26-room Eco Lodge resting in the magnificent Wadi Feynan.  Guests at this 26-room Eco Lodge can be found adventuring through the untouched outdoors, sipping mint tea with the native Bedouin, exploring local archaeological sites or simply unwinding in the serene courtyards and terraces of the candle-lit complex; safe in the knowledge that they are vacationing in a socially and environmentally-responsible way.

a lizard at Feynan lodgeGeoVisions has been asked to supply 2 Conversation Partners at the lodge each month through 2011.  There are only 2 spots per month, so you will want to contact us immediately if you have any interest in this highly unique project.

Hailed as one of the top fifty ecolodges in the world by National Geographic Adventure Magazine, the solar powered Feynan Eco Lodge offers the most developed eco-experience in Jordan.  You can live there free and have all your meals free just for tutoring the lodge staff in English up to 20 hours each week.  You will also tutor the Bedouin drivers and the guides, which means you will see sights and walk trails no one else has available to them.

Watch this high def, 4 minute video and apply now , or contact us right away.  The complete program page will be available soon.

Tags: Conversation Partner, Teach Abroad, Responsible Travel, Jordan, Volunteering Abroad

Have Volunteer Abroad Solution...Will Travel. For A Need!

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Tue, Jun 15, 2010

Who among us have not wondered, at least once, if Voluntourism is doing good, or doing more harm than good?  I have even wondered, who is helped more on a Voluntourism project--the project or the volunteer?

Post it notes on a Volunteer notice boardYou can't do this work and not wonder about these things.  Unless you're one of those senders of volunteers who is doing it for the money.  (If you are, please raise your hand so the rest of us can see what we're doing differently.)  I do not jest.  That is not meant to be funny.

I know what you're thinking…GeoVisions "sends" volunteers abroad.  Writing a post like this…what are you thinking?  Look.  I didn't say I agree.  I said I "wonder" from time to time.

So I happened to be wondering sometime ago, I came upon a Blog I really, really like.  There is content that makes me think critically about Voluntourism.  I always learn something, and the writer causes me to think really hard about our programs.

If someone is causing you to think, and if someone is causing you to be critical enough to examine the "what" you do and more importantly, the "why" of what you do…that's always a good thing.  In all honesty, reading someone critical of what you do can cause you to do what you do better, and with more meaning.

Check out Tales From The Hood.

One of the reasons I think GeoVisions has great programs, obviously, is we think critically and we don't pile on.  I've used the phrase "pile on" over and over in this Blog.  It is rare for me to see innovation out there with new volunteer abroad programs and it is rare someone pushes the envelope and engages in critical discussions about what good we are doing…where, how and why.

Do we, as Voluntourists, offer the solution and then search for a need?  Here is a quote from Tales From The Hood:

The way far too many amateurs want to do aid:

  1. Have a solution (used clothes, volunteers, bunch of soccer balls, a gadget, etc…)
  2. Find a problem that you can, with a little imagination, use the solution identified in Step 1 to partially solve.

In fairness, here is where that writer suggests would do the most good:

The way aid should be done:

  1. Understand the need that needs to be addressed, the problem that needs to be solved.
  2. Plan a solution based on that need, on that problem.
  3. Implement the solution to meet the need, fix the problem.

Volunteer  and kids.See?  I started out this post explaining that I love reading this stuff.  How can you not be challenged?  How can you not learn?  Great stuff.

Here is another Blog I highly recommend: Good Intentions Are Not Enough. This Blog is for everyone who is going be a Voluntourist. Read and use for your preparation. It's great.

You can use the Comments section and tell us what you think.  I hope you will.  Are you a Voluntourist?  Can you share the work you did on a project?  Have you continued your work after your return?  Have you encouraged others to become involved?

Tags: Responsible Travel, Reasons To Volunteer Abroad, Volunteer/Work Abroad Industry Updates

Safety First When You Volunteer Abroad

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Fri, Apr 23, 2010

For those of us involved in sending people abroad for many years, it is impossible to escape the dreaded call about an accident involving one or more of your volunteers or teachers.  In my 35 years of doing this work, I've been on the receiving end of such calls three times.  When I mention these calls in meetings, someone always suggests that one every ten years isn't so bad.  And if you've been the one picking up the telephone in the middle of the night to hear the news that someone is injured, or worse, even one in your lifetime is one too many.

At GeoVisions, we try hard to provide safety tools for all of our participants and traveling staff.  We provide safety information in advance of our volunteers and teachers traveling abroad.  We include the most amazing travel, accident and health insurance you can get when you go abroad with 24/7 telephone support...answered always by a person, not a machine.

Sara's Wish Foundation is an organization dedicated to keeping people safe when they travel abroad.  Primarily interested in students who study abroad, Sara's Wish Foundation put out a video, Know Before You Go.  The video, which we include here, is really for anyone who is traveling abroad.  It is very powerful.

Please watch this short video.  You can also use this link to get to the Sara's Wish Foundation website where you will find so many useful safety tips and helpful information.

Have the time of your life.  Have fun.  Experience life in another culture, incredible food, make new life-long friends.  And put safety first.

 

 

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Tags: Teach Abroad, Responsible Travel, Volunteering Abroad, Travel Safety

In Voluntourism Short-Term Good Is Also Good For The Long-Term

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Mon, Dec 28, 2009

On November 16, Matt Villano over at Time.com wrote an interesting post entitled, "Room Service and a Shovel: The Rise of Voluntourism."  You can read the original post here, and don't worry, it's a short piece.  Mr. Villano writes about the volunteer projects available when you stay at The Mandarin Oriental in Miami or The Fairmont Mission Inn and Spa in Sonoma, California.  Mr. Villano writes that, "Many of these short-term voluntourism projects involved hard work.

Community Footprints logoMentioned also in the post is Give Back Getaways, launched by Ritz-Carlton in April 2008. The Ritz designs excursions to connect tourists with the communities they visit.

As you might expect, nay-sayers and critics blasted these experiences as "easing the guilt of wealthy travelers" and "commercial side-lines."

Blogger P. Ling over at Up Take followed up the TIME post with a post of his own; "It's Time for Some Serious Voluntourism."  In that post he quoted Dave Clemmons, founder of Voluntourism.org as saying, "It is difficult for me to be critical of activities that encourage those with financial resources to come into contact with social concerns and issues across the planet."

GeoVisions sits squarely with Voluntourism.org as quoted at the end of P. Ling's post: "Residents do not want Voluntourism to take over their lives. Knowing ‘what is enough’ and not going overboard with your help is crucial. Voluntourists must learn to let go of the ‘mindset of accomplishment’ and focus on listening and interacting with residents."

You can get more information on short-term volunteering abroad by visiting any of the links in this post above, which will also take you to the Ritz site.  You can also find information here:

Hands Up Holidays

Give A Day, Get A Night

Or...you can also check out GeoVisions. We match the needs of voluntourists with projects.  The world is not "one-size-fits-all."

If you can take away something useful from this post, please consider leaving a comment (below) or subscribing to the feed (above) to have future posts delivered to your feed reader. You can also subscribe via email (over on the right).  You can also Follow us on twitter badge..

 

 

Tags: Responsible Travel, Reasons To Volunteer Abroad, Volunteering Abroad