Alumni Spotlight: Fallon Russel

Fallon Russell attends Western Kentucky University where she is studying Professional Writing, Spanish, and Teaching English as a Second Language.

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Why did you choose this program?

I absolutely love my minor, Teaching English as a Second Language, and I wanted to get some experience within this field over the summer. So I began looking at different programs and came across Greenheart Travel's Homestay program. After some research, I knew that it was the program for me. The dates are flexible, the staff is great, and the price is very reasonable, and there are many destination options. I wanted to travel to a Spanish speaking country to improve my own second language skills, so I traveled to Chile!

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

The Greenheart staff is awesome! Allison and Connor were the two people I interacted with, and they are both incredibly encouraging and helpful! They helped me along through the application and pre-departure process and relayed the contact information for my host family and my local organization. I was responsible for booking my own flight and communicating my flight itinerary with my Greenheart representative.

Once I arrived in my host country, I was in contact with my local organization, Experiment Chile, a partner of Greenheart Travel. Travel from the airport was arranged for me, but I had to plan my own transportation back to the airport. My transportation from the airport dropped me off with Claudio, my local travel representative. Claudio led my orientation, gave me a brief tour of the city, and took me to my host family!

No one is going to hold your hand and do everything for you, because this program is about providing people with the tools they need to successfully travel on their own, but with that being said, Allison, Connor, and Claudio were always extremely helpful in providing me with information and answering any questions along the way.

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

BE FLEXIBLE. You can always prepare, and you should always prepare, but be prepared to throw your plan out the window and roll with the punches. At some point in time, something will not go as planned, and that's okay. Be flexible, make changes to your plans if needed, and always keep a positive attitude. Also, ask questions! If you need help, ask for it. If you're curious about anything in your host country, always be respectful, but ask lots of questions and have conversations with people you meet. Be prepared to answer questions about your lifestyle and culture as well!

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

My experience was unique in that I didn't really teach formal lessons. My main learner and host mom decided to learn English late in her life just for fun. She didn't really want or need to have formal lessons, so all teaching was through conversation and everyday routines. My host mother is extremely active in her community, so we went to gymnastics, yoga, and choir many times per week. We also took the dogs for a walk each day, visited neighbors, and went to the market at the end of the street. I also learned to knit and made a scarf for my host mother!

The culture in Chile is very family oriented, so on weekends, we stayed with my host mother's daughter and grandchildren who are close to my age. My family loved showing me around the place they call home, so we visited many of their favorite places, I also traveled into the city a couple of times on my own. My time in Chile was very laid back, which was super fitting for my personality, but of course, every experience will be different.

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

This was my second time traveling internationally, but it was my first time traveling alone, so I was a little worried about navigating everything alone. Also, my Spanish knowledge at the time was pretty basic, so I was very concerned about the language barrier. Traveling alone turned out not to be a big deal for me. I didn't rush (except for that one time I had to run through the Toronto airport), I read signs carefully, and I asked for directions if I needed to. Everyone in Chile is extremely kind and helpful, and the public transportation is easy to figure out, so my traveling fears disappeared pretty quickly.

As far as the language barrier went, there were a few challenging times, but I was able to communicate with my host family just fine. If there was an issue with words, we used hand signals or pictures to communicate. Also, as time went on, my family learned more English, and I was able to understand a bit more Spanish.

What happens if you get homesick?

I learned that being homesick is totally natural and okay. I have traveled a lot, but this was my first experience being completely alone, so the first few days were weird for me. I was absolutely loving my host family, but I missed familiar sounds, faces, and places. Journaling helped me a lot. I journaled every day, and it made me feel so much better just being able to get my thoughts out of my head. It was sometimes exhausting hearing a different language all the time and not being able to communicate all of my thoughts and feelings to people around me.

Also, don't spend all of your time in a new country on your phone talking to people from home, but you should contact your friends and family at home to let them know how you're doing and ask about home. Sometimes, just hearing a familiar voice will make your day. Time eases homesickness as well. Being in a completely unfamiliar place was hard for a few days, but after a while, the people and places in Chile became like a second family and another home. By the end of my stay, I didn't want to say goodbye.