Alumni Spotlight: Holly Howson


Holly recently graduated from Trent University in Peterborough Ontario with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Holly has always had a passion for travel, adventure and helping others, which is why Operation Groundswell (OG) was great fit.

Why did you choose this program?

I decided to travel with OG on their Ecuador: Food Revolutions trip as I had gone with them to Guatemala the year before and loved every minute of it. Their programs have the perfect balance of organized activities and free time. All the participants on the trip are coming in with the same mindset: to make friends, memories, and experience something completely new.

I really enjoy the format of OG trips, you get to be a tourist one day, work on a farm the next and then hike up a volcano the day after that. Having experienced a few trips like these I have started to love this new style of travel. Experiencing the outdoors, other countries' cultures and traditions all while forming bonds with people who were strangers the week before.

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

The great thing about OG is you have to do almost no planning! When choosing your program they give a general itinerary of what you might be doing when you are in country and after you have been accepted to go on the trip they give you the full detailed itinerary. There is also a lot of communication among OG, the program leaders and the participants. We had a facebook page where everyone would post their questions and concerns about the upcoming trip. We also had a group video chat where we went over the itinerary again and ensured nothing was left unanswered.

The only thing I had to do for this trip was book and pay for my own flight. They tell you a time frame for arrival and departure and you can book within this window or decide to come a few days earlier or stay a few days later.

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

My only piece of advice would be to find the Facebook page for your program! People will be talking about specifics to pack, offering advice, introducing themselves so you have a better idea of who you will be traveling with and your program leaders and the OG headquarters are on the page too, so they can answer any outstanding questions you may have. Not to mention it is a great platform to keep in touch once you return home.

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

For our trip we spent a few days in Quito (Ecuador's capital city), before travelling to a farm in the highlands, then a rural village rich in culture close to the coast, after which we travelled to our final destination on a bee farm. As these are all very different environments our day to day varried quite a bit.

While we were in Quito we would have breakfast at our hostel before heading off to spanish classes. When classes ended we would head to the market place for lunch and in the afternoon we would complete a scaveneger in teams to show us more of the city.

When we were staying at the farm our days would consist of working in the gardens, helping out around the yard, milking the cows and playing with the dogs. Sometimes in the afternoon we would go for a walk around community.

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

I think my biggest fear when traveling abroad, and I still experience every time I travel, is the fear of the unknown. I am one of those people that likes everything nicely planned out and to know what is going on at all times. Being in a different country where I cannot speak the language or pull out my phone to google something I do not understand can be stressful.

However, you have to remember that you went on this trip to experience exactly that. To immerse yourself in a totally different world, to separate yourself from technology and live in the now. Sometimes it takes a day to adjust but once you are on the trip you learn to adapt pretty quickly. It also helps that there are about 10 other people experiencing the same thing with you.

Do you have any advice for someone who may want to partake in an OG program?

Take the leap of faith. I first heard about OG on a facebook advertisement, did a little research and decided to apply to a few trips. I did not know anyone who had been on a trip like this before or had even heard of this company.

I ended up having the time of my life, meeting people from all over the world and I continue to keep in touch with some of them. I dove blind into this trip and it was amazing. You have now heard my experience with OG and I hope I convinced you to look into their programs and take a leap of your own.