What is your favorite travel memory?
It's extremely difficult to identify one favorite memory from two years of volunteer work, however I would say that my fondest memories would have to be the inside jokes that I had with all of the different groups of students with whom I worked.
When I imagined what teaching would be like (before I started teaching), I never realized that each class would have such distinct "collective personalities," and that the bond that I would form with each class would be so unique. Each group that I worked with had their different stories, senses of humor, inside jokes, and relationships with me, which really made every hour of my day so unique.
In the end it’s all about the making a positive, exciting educational experience for your students and when you have moments where you feel like you’ve done so, you’re filled with a very warm and wholesome feeling of accomplishment.
How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?
Before volunteering with the EODP, I had a lot of passion and desire to live a meaningful life, but not a lot of structure or consistency. Working with adolescents teaches you a lot about the importance of planning and “follow through” when working towards goals, or generally approaching challenges.
That said, even after two years of volunteer service, I would still say that in 2012 when I started working for the English Opens Doors Program as an intern, I was still lacking a lot in organization and administrative capacities.
Over the years I’ve worked for the team in many different capacities, and in various areas of work, and I have come to feel like there is no problem or challenge that isn’t approachable and conquerable with a methodical, experience based approach.
I think over the course of the last 7 years, I’ve been lucky enough to find a lot of meaning and purpose in my life, and I owe that overwhelmingly to the experience of having both volunteered an worked for the English Opens Doors Program.
What is the best story you've heard from a return student?
After working on this side of the program for over five years now, having trained, supported, and overseen over a thousand volunteers of the English Opens Doors program, I think some of the funniest stories have to be the stories where there was a language-based misunderstanding that culminated in some embarrassing moment that ended up changing the trajectory of the volunteer’s service in a positive and unique way. Most volunteers have one!
That said, what I think my favorite thing to hear from volunteers at the end of their volunteer service is how meaningful and profound this experience was for them.
In some ways I think that perhaps the best part of this program is that it is quite challenging, and so when you’ve completed your volunteer service, you really come away from this a stronger, more confident, socially aware, and competent person.
Every year we have volunteers write to us a few months (or even years!) later after they’ve completed their volunteer service to tell us that this was the most meaningful experience that they’ve had in their lives, and to thank us for making it all possible and navigable. I think that’s one of the “best “stories” I hear from our volunteers.
If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?
I always joke with my colleagues that when I finally decide to leave the English Opens Doors Program, I’d like to go out with one final year of volunteer service. (I highly recommend year-long volunteer services over semester-long services when possible, in order feel a sense of community and belonging in your town/area, as well as a sense of normalcy and stride in your volunteer role.)
My dream is to train a group of volunteers, and instead of heading back to the office while they ride off into the sunset to start their new meaningful adventures, I’d jump on that bus/plane with them, and enjoy one more year of being a volunteer!
It would be so amazing to have one more year in which my main concern is getting students to believe in themselves by giving them the tools to communicate in another language, and making their experience as exciting and memorable as possible.
I think if I were to choose the location, I’d probably go with a very rural location in the Patagonia, like say, the Aysén Region. In any case, it’s not so much about the location, but rather the attitude with which you approach it that really determines just how much you get out of your volunteer service.
What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?
In contrast with a lot of the different “international experiences” that are being marketed to prospective international volunteers, this program is really about students and public education in general, as opposed to some sort of “voluntourism” enterprise.
This program is 100% funded through Chile’s public funding, with the objective of providing underserved public school students the opportunity to develop their communicative abilities in a foreign language, thereby gaining contact with the international community, which I find to be so much more meaningful than a program that costs money and ultimately exists to serve “me.”
In terms of accomplishments, I really couldn’t be more proud of my team (my friends) for their positive energy, endless efforts, and flexibility as we work together to make this initiative stronger every year. I think that when 2015 rolled around and we made a very important move as a program, whereby we started working exclusively in public schools, there were a lot of adjustments to be made in so many different ways, and the team responded to the challenge so smoothly and successfully.
This initiative is doing incredible work in the schools that need it most. We’re constantly evolving, and I can honestly say that my team is my second family.
What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?
I think that the biggest factor in being a successful organization is really having a worthy goal/purpose, and being constructive and holistic in the way that you work toward it.
In the case of this program, there really are no strings attached here. We are working to strengthen the public education system of an amazing country, constantly building off of previous experience, and deliberating over feedback to see how we can do it better to meet the needs of all parties involved.
Lastly, if you want to be successful, you really have to love what you do, and constantly inspire the same for all of those around you.