Staff Spotlight: Alexandra Retzleff



After earning a PhD in Classical Archaeology from UNC at Chapel Hill, Alex started her career in education in the Department of Classics at McMaster University, where she lectured, mentored students in the hands-on skills of field archaeology, and published scholarly articles on various topics in art history, archaeology, and cultural history. As an archaeologist, Alex spent much of her time traveling and living in the Near East.

What is your favorite travel memory?

I spent a lot of time living, working, and backpacking around the Middle East in the 1990s, when the political situation was much more stable than it is now. I especially cherish my memories of Syria, because I experienced first-hand the beauty and hospitality of a region which is now devastated by ISIS. I remember one time arriving with my Australian travel companion in a remote town in Northern Syria, not realizing there would be nowhere for us to eat or stay (as happens sometimes when you are really off the beaten path).

Concerned townspeople ushered us to the local school to meet the principal. He took us into his home for dinner, interviewed us for the local newspaper, took us for a walk to a beautiful shady tea garden, and let us sleep on mats on the floor of the school. The town really came together to look after us!

Which destination is most underrated? Conversely, which is most overrated?

It is hard for any highly-rated destination to live up to its reputation. Just like the best books or movies are often those you just come across without any particular expectations, I find travel can work in a similar way. The unexpected places that you just stumble upon are often the most interesting, so I am a big believer in wandering off the beaten path. That having been said, the Galapagos Islands are truly amazing and deserving of every bit of their reputation. Birds with blue feet nesting right beside your footpath? Friendly little penguins swimming around you? Ripples in the lava fields hardened into mesmerizing patterns? Darwin’s research subjects crawling all about? The natural world here is expansively breathtaking, abundant, and truly unique.

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

Delivering what has been promised. It is essential to promote an image that is true to your service and to ensure that your clients receive what they signed up for. At Youth International, we provide our potential participants with a lot of detailed information before they sign up: you can review the complete daily itinerary of the trip, and you will have an in-depth phone interview to make sure that all your questions are answered. You can also read travel blogs written by past teams, and even get in touch with our alumni. Being well-informed is the best way to make sure your choice of program is a good fit for your interests.

How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?

I began my career in education as a university professor, so working in experiential learning was a big transition for me. One of my major frustrations working in the ivory tower was the difficulty in making material relevant to students.

Through working with Youth International, I have come to appreciate “learning by doing” as the highest form of education, because profound intercultural experiences can be the most deeply intellectually transformative moments on one’s life. This is the stuff you never forget!

Most recently, I have brought my academic experience full circle through our partnership with Western State Colorado University, by designing college-credit courses centered on key field activities of the Youth International programs. It is fulfilling to be able to bring these subjects to life through real world experiences.

What unique qualities does your company possess?

Over the past 20 years, we have stayed true to a program model that we have found offers the best possible experience for our participants. All of our programs are 3 months long, and involve travel in 3 countries. Our quality and consistency have allowed us to form strong connections to local communities across the globe, and to keep our community service projects running from one year to the next, allowing us to make a real impact. Our particular combination of international travel, service work, and outdoor adventure encourages cultural understanding and supports profound personal growth. Our programs are also a lot of fun!