Alumni Spotlight: Maddie Foster


Why did you choose this program?

For my first international excursion, I researched and looked at a lot of different programs. Since I was traveling alone, typical tourist programs weren't attractive to me. I wanted a program that was going to immerse me in a culture and push me to grow myself as a person.

Operation Groundswell had that mission and was upfront about the negative aspects of voluntourism and how they went about countering that. I felt like I was walking into a program where I was going to come back changed, not going to magically change a community.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

The only things I had to organize on my own were my flights and gear. Booking flights was pretty simple. They gave a detailed list of gear to bring with you, most of which I borrowed from friends and family to cut down on additional costs. Operation Groundswell also offered assistance in booking flights and worked with us for any changes that needed to be made.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

You don't need as many clothes as you think you do. Definitely pack light!

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

What was great about this program is that every day was different. We went from waking up in tree houses to exploring cities to working in fields. Every day has a different memory and a different experience. What was the same each day? You were constantly learning and exploring, which are two of my favorite things!

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My greatest fear was my safety during the program. Operation Groundswell alleviated some of that anxiety beforehand by providing a "safety chat" for the group to get to know each other and discuss our fears.

It was great to hear other peoples' perspectives and talk with our leaders to hear their first-hand experience. Once arriving in Guatemala, I never felt unsafe; except during an earthquake, but who could have seen that coming?

After coming back, how have you changed?

I now notice the differences in how cultures consume foods. We consume foods in mass quantities and have a grocery store available to us at almost every corner. It makes us forget about the farmer as a person. It was great to actually see how meals are made from using natural ingredients grown in one's own backyard. I purchase more food from farmer's markets now and am trying to limit the purchase of mass-produced products.