Rachel graduated from the University of Connecticut this past May and didn't go abroad her 4 years at UCONN because she couldn't fit it into her schedule and graduate on time. She wanted to study abroad for a semester, and just couldn't make it happen. Now that she's graduated, she wants a year off before starting a career and she wants a portion of that year to be working abroad.
Rachel spoke to me a few days ago about her goal to travel abroad and make a difference. She was frustrated because we were the third organization she spoke to. (I told her I wished she'd have thought of us first.) She couldn't remember what other organizations promised her, the different benefits and she wasn't 100% clear on what she could do and if she could afford an experience like this. Because there were so many options for her, I think she "overdosed" on information. I showed Rachel how following only 3 crucial steps would get her to where she wants to be, doing what she wants to be doing, and positively impacting lives permanently.
Over 70,000 people have traveled with GeoVisions since we were founded in 2001. We enjoy a 9.49 overall rating with GoAbroad.com on independent reviews. So it didn't surprise me that Rachel was eager to ask me a few questions about something she had wanted to do for many years, and something she realized she may never be able to do again.
1. Do NOT compromise on where you want to go and what you want to do once you're there. No matter what any organization tells you ... there is no reason for this compromise. Time of year? Maybe. Exact city? Most certainly. But the country and the type of difference you're going to make? Nope. Just hang in there. TO BE HONEST, GeoVisions will never guarantee an exact location. Country? Yes. City? No. You want the south of France? We might not have a family there at the time of year you can go. Eastern France? OK, so work it out with your host family to have a few days at the beginning or end and take a train or bus to the city you want to visit. BE FLEXIBLE. Because we don't have a family in Southern France now, doesn't mean we won't have one 2 months from now. So do NOT compromise on the country. Do compromise on exact location. No organization will be able to tell you months in advance the exact city. Madrid? Sure. WHERE in Madrid? Nope. Just don't let them hook you, take your money, then break the news to you that you are nowhere close to where you wanted to be.
2. If you're going to work abroad, make sure you have time to handle the visa requirements. You're going to have to jump through so many hoops (and it's worth it) to get a visa that allows you to work and stay longer than a tourist. If you're going as a tourist (programs from 30-90 days) then make plans not to overstay your visa and do a shorter volunteer stint. That leaves you time to visit areas of the country where you have an interest. Remember, in Europe, you can stay only 90-days on a tourist visa. You can't leave and return (like Costa Rica, for example.) Once you leave after your 90-days, you must stay away for 180 days. Only then can you return. Plan on this when you sign up. If you're OK with 90-days, we need you. If you're not, sign up for 30 or 60 days and take the extra time at the beginning or end to travel. Flexibility is key, and remember your "why". You have to include the "why" of traveling abroad to make a difference and then be as flexible as possible. If you are, the world will literally open up to you.
3. Live like a local. For some people, that is more important than whether or not they will get paid when they travel. There are not many times in one's life where you can travel abroad and actually live like a local. And by that I mean to point that the local coffee shop worker knows to expect you and what you like to drink. That's an experience you won't get often after you complete your "travel different" experience. Just go through this when you call and make sure you're going to get that experience. We have built this into both volunteer experiences and paid experiences. The best way to make sure this is going to happen to you is to talk to people who have been where you're going and have done what you're going to do. Ask us and we'll send you in that direction.
These are a few of the parts (or the anatomy) that make up an experience that will be perfectly suited for you.
- GeoVisions Blog has a post about how to afford a travel abroad program where you can also make a difference when you travel. That would be a great post to read after this one to learn 5 ways to afford to travel like this.
- Make sure you can talk to the people you're working with anytime you want. You need to be able to CALL or SKYPE the organization you're paying money to. Make sure they're available to answer ANY question you have.
- The fee should be very clear and no matter what question you ask about the fee, it needs to be answered.
Make sure you know exactly what's included and what's not included. It should be very clear what you're going to get and what you're going to have to pay for above and beyond any fees.
- Is there an FAQ page on the site? If so, go through those because many organizations receive the same questions each day. To be helpful they will post those questions. And then, when you don't see your question there ... email or call the organization and recommend they put that question on their FAQ page.
- What's going on with the social media? Are people represented on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media channels? You want to be able to follow, share and ask questions directly.
There are pieces to any overseas program, which you will need to put together ... like a puzzle. That's true for any organization you will travel with. Use this anatomy checklist to make sure the organization you're interested in has the perfect program for you.
Press this red button to set up a time to speak with someone in our office ... just like Rachel did. Approach your phone call with us the way Rachel did. This is my time. I've waited a while for this experience. I might not be able to travel this way for a very long time. So I'm serious and I need you to be serious too. I think you'll enjoy the opportunity to talk to us, and we most certainly will narrow your focus so you can begin to make a decision that's just right for you.
If you press the button and show up for the phone call, I promise you, a plan will come together that will make perfect sense for you. And with that plan, you will make a series of decisions that impact your life and more importantly, the lives of more people you touch along the way was you travel different. Or, if you decide not to press the button, the alternative is more questions than answers. Personally, I'd rather be in that coffee shop, smiling at the person who was expecting me for the last half hour.