GeoVisions Blog

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

Volunteer Abroad: Do You Fit In?

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Tue, Jul 24, 2012

A GeoVisions volunteer abroad with her host brother and sisterYesterday I wrote a post about "How I See You." I thought I would follow up that post with actual comments from GeoVisions' volunteers in-country right now. I hope you'll read some of them to see if you think you fit in.

After about 3 days from arriving at your project or host family, we send an email asking if you arrived safely, how you're feeling, where you are located and how we can get in touch with you. About 2 weeks later, we ask you to write back in 25 words or less describing your situation.

Most people come to us realizing they have offered to volunteer abroad and that they are not on a tour. It isn't GeoVisions' responsibility to make sure you're enjoying yourself. That's all on you. What we provide at GeoVisions is a project that needs your help (no matter how little or how much) and a place to live along with food and great insurance. What you do on your own is totally up to you.

I'm amazed (only infrequently) how many people expect to be pampered and how many people expect that they are going to go change the world. If you are one of those types of people, don't volunteer abroad with GeoVisions. Please…go bother one of our competitors and make their lives miserable.

To see if you fit in, here are actual comments from our volunteers abroad right now. If you like what you see, you fit in!

All of these comments are coming from the right place. These volunteers aren't writing about themselves and what they had hoped to do or change. The are writing about the experience and what it takes to be of service abroad. They certainly do fit in.

So in 25 words or less (OK...a few don't know how to count) here are some of the "fitters-in" at GeoVisions.

Enjoy!

I would say it is very hard, adjusting, which I am still doing. But worth it to see another part of the world. I have had my good and bad moments but am just waiting till i settle in more and feel more comfortable here. I have barely slept here which is not a good thing at all, and sometimes feel isolated by the language barrier.

My programme, working with two children, 4 and 9, is very hands on and one to one. The whole family are getting involved in helping me with Spanish and practicing sentences in English together. They are a very busy family so there are always things to write and draw about.

It's a great opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and learn about a different culture.

Two volunteers in PeruAn amazing experience, a great way to experience local life in Spain! Great people, fun kids and inspiring culture.

4 hours a day teaching English at the Camp. Challenging, but fun. A lot of free time for fun and travels. Provided with a safety net that feels like family.

I could have not asked for a better family to be paired with. They are all so welcoming and loving; I feel as though I am really a part in their family. This experience has been splendid in every way.

This is very challenging, but it is a challenge worth taking! Although I am spending a lot of time helping the family with their English, I have had plenty of time to explore.

It is an exciting adventure. You are truly surrounded by the culture and learn the life style and customs of the family you work with.

I love it!!! I'm having the time of my life plus I got placed with an amazing family. I can't believe it's almost one month :(

It is a life changing experience. It opens your eyes to the astonishing similarities to be found in every couture and the captivating differences that make each nation, each region and city, unique.

It's been a lot of fun. I've gotten to know a lot of the people in the town I'm staying in and the family really well. I wish I was traveling more but there is still time.

A very different experience, a cultural adventure, language immersion, lots of childcare, lots of opportunities to meet other young foreigners.

It is fun and difficult at the same time. Every day is different. It takes a lot of patience.

Very interesting exchange of culture and language. You will make a lot of new friends.

Everything has been going very well in Jordan. I've been learning a lot. Culture shock wasn't too bad. The main difference is the food, but I acclimated quickly.

Colombia is awesome, food, weather, and people are extremely friendly. The weather has been in the high 70's early 80's. I'm glad I made the switch from Bogota to Quimbaya. I'm surrounded by coffee and banana farms. Have a good day.

teaching in a classroom in ChinaMoscow is such a fascinating city! It's fast-paced, huge, with tons of people and things to see. I'll find myself wandering the city in random directions just because I'm bound to find interesting places. The language barrier can be tricky sometimes, but that is mostly just because I hate to be such a foreigner, I try and fit in as much as possible.

This has been the hardest thing I've ever done. I have grown and learned copiously and feel that I have been changed and strengthened tremendously by this experience.

No matter what part of the world you are from, good people are good people. Despite any of our differing beliefs, my host family and I have found common ground and really care about each other.

A great opportunity to connect with a different culture while giving something back.

I love my experience in Costa Rica. Words cannot even explain how much I have gained from it. I have grown in confidence so much, it has been absolutely amazing. I am forever recommending it to my friends or random people even.

Tags: Conversation Partner, Reasons To Volunteer Abroad, Conversation Corps, Thank You To Our Volunteers, Volunteering Abroad

At GeoVisions I'm Thankful For...

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Wed, Nov 23, 2011
I'm sitting here at my desk this Wednesday morning before Thanksgiving and just opened up iTunes and chose some holiday music.  I know, a little early but it just felt good to me.

The GeoVisions logoI'm thankful for our volunteers and teachers who ventured overseas this year to make a huge difference in people's lives.  They gave their time, they gave their money and they made sure they left their communities and schools better than they found them.

Our company and business model runs on a strong overseas partner network.  I'm thankful to all 54 of our overseas partners.  It has been one challenge after another in 2011 and you have demonstrated your patience by hanging in there with us.  And I'm thankful that you are so open-minded.  We sure came up with some very creative programming ideas in 2011, which you embraced with a smile and operated flawlessly.

Facebook logo2011 has seen the number of voluntourism sending organizations double.  Everybody and their brother thinks they can do this from home and that it's easy.  Cruise lines offer 2 hours of volunteer projects and call themselves "sustainable" and resorts and hotels sprinkle in a few hours of volunteering like I would spices on my food--and they call that voluntourism.  I'm thankful for our  competitors who copied some of our programs.  My friend and business partner, Kevin Morgan, constantly reminds me that "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."  I, however, "like" the Facebook Page Imitation Is NOT The Most Sincere Form Of Flattery...It's Just ANNOYING!  To our competitors who copy our programs and think you can do them better and cheaper…I invite you to "like" that Facebook page.  But thank you for showing me our program ideas are great.

I'm thankful for our staff.  We have it right.  It has never felt so good and comfy around here.  These are dedicated men and women who live, eat and breathe taking care of our volunteers, teachers and overseas partners.  They check their emails on their days off.  They make overseas calls from home when necessary.  They have some of the best ideas I've ever heard and I've done this work since 1975.

Randy, Kevin and Jim in LondonI'm going to name a few people I'm particularly thankful for being in my life personally and professionally.  I'll leave some people out by mistake, and I'll piss off a few others.  Happy Thanksgiving to you all anyway.

My two business partners, Kevin Morgan and James Miller.  I would not be sitting here with so many blessings if it were not for the two of you.  I cannot imagine better partners.  And together, when we get into one room, we have 115 years of combined experience in International Cultural Exchange.  That is powerful and you can't imagine the problems that can be solved with that much rich experience focused on the issue at hand.

Working with family has its ups and downs and it is especially hard on the staff because they have no idea who to go to when they get frustrated.  I'm thankful that my daughter, Alexandra, was able to take us to the next level of how we use social media.  My son, Christopher, has been with us since day-one and you can't imagine what a wonderful feeling that is.

Randy and RebeccaFew spouses can live together for many years.  And I have one who has not only found a way to live with me, but work with me as well.  I am so difficult.  I want everything done my way, and everything done right, and I second guess everyone's decisions except mine.  And "I want it yesterday."  So I'm thankful that I have a spouse who can live with me and work with me and who can take all of my negatives and turn them into positives…unselfishly.  She's content to stand in the shade.  We share our office, our ideas, our hopes and dreams.  She puts all these wonderful programs together by taking my ideas and bringing them to life.  We would have evaporated into thin air if it were not for Rebecca.

Voluntourism.org popped on to my radar in 2008.  I flew out to San Diego to meet Dave Clemmons.  In the last 3 years we have spent quality time together, and I'm very thankful for you, Dave.  You have shown me the light, and you make certain that light never goes out.  You don't even allow it to flicker.  You walk your talk and that's an incredible example for the rest of us. Thank you for spending a year in Jordan and in an area of the world that is so important to be in right now.  The work we plan to do together next year is so exciting for me, because even at my old age you continue to show me I can learn.

There are a lot of "vendors" that help us so much.  Mitch over at GoOverseas has been incredibly helpful and lots of fun to talk to.  Gregory Hubbs at TransitionsAbroad has brought our listings there to life and is a huge tribute to the incredible work his father did in this field.  But amongst them all, Troy Pedden and Crispina Reynera at GoAbroad.com have demonstrated so much patience and in particular, Troy has shown me "the heart" of business ethics and in all honesty, they rise above anyone else's I know.

Randy Sykes, Randy LeGrant and Jean-Marc AlberolaWhen are we friends with our competitors?  How many of our competitors can we sit down with and have a few beers and talk for hours?  Go for bicycle rides in California?  I'm very thankful for two of my competitors who are now two of my very close friends.  They are no longer my competitors.  We simply share the same interests.  I'm talking about Randy Sykes, the President of ISV Student Volunteers and Jean-Marc Alberola, the President of Bridge.  And while I'm at it, I'm adding in here Alexia Nestora, the owner of Lasso Communications and who runs the Voluntourismgal Blog.  Before that, Alexia was the President of i-to-i North America.  When GeoVisions decided to offer volunteer and teach abroad programs these three people more than anyone else opened their companies, their minds and mostly their hearts to show me the very best way to provide volunteer programs responsibly.  I cannot imagine my life without the 3 of you in it.

Where do I pick up my statue?  Oh…this is my Thanksgiving post.

Normally I'm ranting in my posts about online reviews and cruise lines and resorts jumping on the band wagon and deluding themselves and their customers that they are really making a difference in the world.  So this personal post is a huge departure from the norm of what you would see here.  For those of you who wonder if I have a heart…see?  I do.  For those of you who prefer my rants…stay tuned next week.

In the meantime, if you celebrate Thanksgiving, Happy Thanksgiving.  If you don't, have a great week and weekend and I trust we'll see you back here next week.

Tags: Thank You To Our Volunteers, Randy LeGrant

Volunteers Know That Ready Or Not: Disasters Don't Care

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Thu, Sep 01, 2011

In the early morning hours on Sunday, August 28, Hurricane Irene came ashore in Guilford, CT. Guilford is home to GeoVisions' Global Work and Service Program office. It is also home to most of our staff.

Parade now Whitfield St.Old timers to this Blog probably remember photos I have taken of Guilford. I'm so proud of this small coastal town with it's Town Green built in 1639 and our office, built in 1750. We look over this Green from our office and do you know what? I never, ever take that view for granted.

When we have visitors from out of town we always take them to the Guilford Harbor. It's an actual working harbor with restaurants, pleasure boats, lobster boats, the Guilford Lobster Pound and other spots that just make walking down there very peaceful.

On Sunday morning, a lot of that changed. And to keep things in perspective, I'm not whining. We had a Category 1 hurricane. I cannot even imagine a Category 2, never mind a 5. I'm thankful, and all of us are taking this in stride.

How did Irene impact our staff? Well, for starters, we have no electricity, no cable TV, no Internet, cell phone service is spotty, our yards are a mess, some of us lost beautiful trees, hundreds of dollars in food is spoiling, we can't flush toilets without pouring water in the back because in Guilford, 100% of the homes are on water wells and septic systems. So basically, we're camping! And many of us don't have running water and had to buy bottled water. Neighbors were buying hundreds upon hundreds of pounds of ice to keep food spoilage to a minimum.

How did this impact GeoVisions? No electricity. No Internet to stay in touch with volunteers and no email to communicate with people hoping to go on our programs. No phones, so when people call us they assume we're closed…or worse. Can you imagine being in business and locking up your doors for 5 days (and counting)? That's what we have had to do because of a natural disaster. And disasters don't care.

So what have we done? How area we providing 24/7 service to our volunteers and teachers abroad right now? Because that is key.

We quickly bought a generator and 25 gallons of gas before the stations ran out…which they did on Monday. This generator would end up powering 3 computers at a time, and a refrigerator with fresh water for 5 days. Our backup Verizon 3G/4G hot spot powered computers on a damaged cellular network so we could get plain text emails out, receive emails and update our volunteers and teachers abroad.

Next, we were able to get Comcast to forward the main phone line to our emergency telephone service. That service has 2 power generators and 7 days of diesel fuel each. By taking these 2 quick steps, we were able to protect our volunteers and teachers 24/7, and stand ready for any emergency abroad.

Our staff has been nothing short of amazing. They drove to New Haven for WiFi, and to family homes outside of Guilford with power and Internet. Some drove around to McDonalds, Starbucks and Subway to stay in touch with our participants and even those who plan to participate this month and need pre-departure materials. We have found that dedication to the service of others is contagious, and our staff just got in cars and found WiFi to stay in touch with everyone who touches them via GeoVisions.

As of this writing, we now have electricity in our office. We still have no phones and we have no Internet. We will no longer have to power computers with generators. But we will continue to use the Verizon hot spot. Verizon was very helpful and doubled our usage because of what has happened. And our staff will continue to call you via their personal cell phones.

GeoVisions office in GuilfordEmergency? There has been another 7 days of fuel added and we can go another week providing emergency phone service 24/7. All staff on those lines are reporting to work as usual.

Using a metaphor, our doors remain shut and the windows covered. But there is life inside, thanks to technology, fuel and dedicated staff.

Disasters don't care. Our volunteers who have worked in disaster areas know that first-hand.  Disasters kill indiscriminantly and destroy at will. We have experienced the fact that disasters don't care. People do care, however. We have had so many people encourage us through these difficult days, and our staff certainly care. And that is what makes the difference. It's the people we surround ourselves with…staff, volunteers and teachers alike that make the difference in letting the disaster get the best of us, of letting the disaster bring out the best in us.

How will you know us on the Internet? Everything is working and we are providing updates to you via our Home Page.

How will you know us if you see us? We're the ones with a roll of toilet paper in our hands madly searching for a toilet that flushes!

Enjoy your Labor Day weekend, here in the U.S.

Tags: Thank You To Our Volunteers, Make Something Happen, Guilford

Make Volunteer Abroad A 2007 Priority

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Wed, Dec 20, 2006
It has been a busy month in planes, trains and automobiles, if you will pardon the movie reference.

From its celebrated symbols of patriotism to its undiscovered neighborhoods, the sights and sounds of Washington, DC are inspiring.  Beyond it’s most familiar vistas, the capital city unwinds into a lively urban center.  Casual cafes and upscale bistros line the trendy streets of Georgetown, while the downtown district sizzles with a host of new restaurants. Spontaneous Jazz notes tumble out the windows of U Street's nightclubs, while world-class performers take the stage at the highly acclaimed Kennedy Center. Kayakers tackle the Potomac River as it winds past the elegant marble tributes to America's great leaders.

Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.I was invited to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  President Carter established the President’s Commission on the Holocaust November 1, 1978. Then in 1980, Congress unanimously passed legislation to establish the United States Holocaust Memorial.  I was surrounded by visions of Darfur…the current exhibit on show there.  But the focus that day was on the fate of all people who are isolated, persecuted, incarcerated and abused for being a certain color, living in a particular part of the world, or exercising religious freedom.

The following day it was next door to Baltimore, a bustling city built on tradition and civic pride and the location of HBO’s hit mini-series, The Wire. Since the redevelopment of the Inner Harbor in the late 1970s, Baltimore has set the standard for urban renewal and is now a major travel destination welcoming over 11 million business and leisure visitors each year.

The crown jewel of Baltimore is the Inner Harbor, a scenic and popular waterfront area with dozens of retail stores, restaurants and attractions. This, combined with Baltimore's easy accessibility, makes the city unique. What most people don't realize is that most sites and neighborhoods are within walking distance of each other, and this makes Charm City an ideal place for business as well as pleasure.

Baltimore, MD.My meetings in Baltimore included a stop at The Orchard Street A.M.E. Church.  Free Blacks and slaves donated their labor and in 1837 built the structure at night by torchlight. According to oral tradition, the church's original buildings served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. During the 1970s, construction workers uncovered a secret tunnel underneath the church, which is now the oldest standing building constructed by Blacks in the city of Baltimore.  There was an enormous effort recently for funding, after a water main burst and flooded the church.

And now I have just returned from London, where I met for three days with our CEO, Kevin Morgan, our COO, Jim Miller, and our UK partners who help us provide unique teaching and volunteer experiences there.

London, England.Our meetings were held in Mayfair, set roughly between Oxford Street, Regent Street, Piccadilly and Park Lane, which is at the very heart of London.  This area has been owned by the Grosvenor family since 1677 and takes its name from the 15-day May Fair, once held there every year.  

Mayfair's expansive and handsome architecture has always attracted the very wealthy. For nearly 300 years the most influential people in the land have enjoyed its elegant squares, broad Georgian thoroughfares and beautiful parks.  Mayfair also boasts the capital's most exclusive shops, hotels, restaurants and clubs.

The results of our meetings in London will provide not only a more firm foundation of volunteering and teaching abroad, but also create a framework around consistent themes that make each GeoVisions project a safe, secure and life-changing experience for the community and the volunteer.

Thank you for making 2006 another great year!

We always appreciate our volunteers, teachers and anyone interested in our overseas opportunities.  But during the holidays we reflect on the many people who make our Global Work and Service Programs strong. Providing inspiring volunteer and teaching opportunities in 18 countries in 60 different projects worldwide, we have much to be thankful for. Please know that as we grow you are always important to us and your voice will always be heard, no matter how many volunteers and teachers work with us.

Randy LeGrant, Kevin Morgan, and Jim Miller in front of a Christmas tree at the Park Lane Hotel in London, England.Pushing the envelope to improve our programs, responding to the needs of our overseas partners and being fairly priced and managed are our top goals. In 2007, we hope that you will continue to be impressed with our Global Work and Service Programs.

To our volunteers and teachers (and those thinking about volunteering) — best wishes for a wonderful holiday.

To our overseas partners — good luck with your inspiring work next year at each of your projects. Know that we are behind you, providing the very best teachers and volunteers worldwide to help fulfill your mission!

I look forward to seeing you in 2007!

Randy LeGrant
Executive Director
GeoVisions

Tags: Reasons To Volunteer Abroad, Thank You To Our Volunteers, Randy LeGrant

Thank You For Volunteering Abroad

Posted by Randy LeGrant on Mon, Nov 27, 2006
Fall leaves make New England in the fall a great place to be.
At this time of year, the Northeast United States has the “look and feel” of major change.  The weather goes from hot and humid to cool and dry.  Shorts and t-shirts give way to long pants and bulky sweaters.  Trees change from green to red.  It seems this happens as quickly as overnight, and that adds to the feeling of impending change.

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending some meetings in New York where I managed to steal a few hours inside the American Museum of Natural History and the Hayden Planetarium.  Where I used to take my five year old almost monthly (he’s now working here and 24 years old), I now take my six and eight year olds.  The special exhibits are riveting, but not so much as the wonder reflected in the eyes of children and the sharp questions (never-ending and without pause) on the subway home.

Crowds walking down 5th Ave. in New York City.
A walk down Fifth Avenue humbles me, and keeps me grounded at the same time.  GeoVisions' newest program in South Africa saturates my mind as I contrast the wealth on some of New York’s streets against the memory of round, mud huts and villagers foraging for food in Africa’s Wild Coast.  Here, Microsoft has donated 50 computers, and we will be sending computer-literate volunteers to show the students how to use them.

I am thankful for the volunteers contacting us about our projects and how well people all around the world are responding.  We have been contacted by new volunteers in Brazil, Singapore, Germany, China and Jordon along with many from the U.S.  GeoVisions now has 80 projects operating in 20 countries.  This is where need meets inspiration.  And that makes an enormous difference in lives and communities around the world.

November reminds us that the holiday season is approaching.  For all those inspired enough to make a difference with GeoVisions in upcoming 2007, all of us here thank you.  Your emails and phone calls, your applications, and your enthusiasm to leave a place better than you found it inspires us to to go that extra mile to make sure you meet that goal.

Have a wonderful November.

Randy LeGrant
Executive Director
GeoVisions

Tags: Reasons To Volunteer Abroad, Thank You To Our Volunteers, Randy LeGrant