Alumni Spotlight: Gretchen Mora


Gretchen is a mom, lover of books, animals, and travel. She decided to step into the unknown, sell her house and most of her possessions, and take her two boys (12 and 14) on a trip around the world as she wanted to incorporate their learning and love of volunteering into the trip. She found that volunteering is one of the most amazing ways to learn about a country and its people.

Why did you choose this program?

I wanted a program that combined a truly good volunteer experience with fun. After researching many programs, Discover Corps offered the best of both as well as a "family friendly" vibe that many other programs didn't. I also wanted a program that worked with animals, and Discover Corps had several around the world that met that criteria. The hard part was deciding!

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

The only thing we had to organize on our own were flights to and from the city where the tour started. All pickups, drop offs, touring, and coordination with the volunteer agencies were handled for us. Meals were also planned at local eateries, or made for us by local chefs. The food was always fantastic. It was the easiest vacation I've ever taken!

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

It's gonna be HOT! Get used to it. Also, bring easily washable clothes, wear bug spray all the time, and don't pass up any opportunity that comes your way! If you think you might not want to do part of the program (like the more daring zip lining or rafting), the guides are very helpful in finding other options for you during the day. For friends who are skittish about going overseas, I just tell them to DO it!

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

As we took two different tours with Discover Corps, I will give short summaries of both:

Costa Rica Turtles - After arriving at the Costa del Oro where the Turtle Trax group is located, we went through an orientation about turtles, and we definitely learned a lot. We toured their facilities and got ready for our night patrols.

Each night, we did a night patrol on the beach between 10 PM- 4 AM (varying the times by group) looking for turtles nesting. When we found a nest, we removed the eggs and buried them in the hatchery near the beach where they would be protected from poachers and dogs. In the morning, we usually got to sleep in, then we would do an activity in the nearby community such as visiting another turtle hatchery in a tiny village, touring the mangrove swamps, or visiting local beaches.

Thailand - We toured several temples and elephant hospital/conservation sites in Chiang Mai for a few days before heading to the Elephant sanctuary. Once there, we were up at 6 AM to feed, scoop poop, and wash the elephants (not in that order). Then we had some down time and usually another activity during the day.

We toured the elephant nursery, did some trekking on elephants, or made elephant treat balls that required some foraging for specific plants and then grinding them into a mush to shape into balls. In the evening, we could go feed and say goodnight to the elephants. On our last days, we went rafting and zip lining.

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 biggest fear was that something would happen to myself or my kids. I tried to alleviate this fear by buying travel insurance. We never got sick enough to have to use it, thankfully. I was also afraid that I would not have a good time. That fear was quickly dispelled once we started the volunteer projects.

What is better, slow travel or fast travel?

Because we only had one year to travel, I wanted to hit as many places and experience as many things as we could, without overdoing it. We were considered "fast travelers" because we visited 36 countries during our trip instead of taking 3 months in one place, then 3 months in another, etc. I would love to slow travel more in the future to experience more of the countries we visited, and enjoy discovering new countries.