Staff Spotlight: Hayley Saramaki

Team Leader & Communications Manager


Soon after graduating from University, Hayley took off to Asia, where she lived and taught in the Vietnamese capital of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) for two years.

After returning home to Canada, she dabbled in the film, media, and television industries before starting to work as part of Youth International’s core leadership team remotely and on the ground with the teams.

What is your favorite travel memory?

Aside from the incredible memories that I have created while working with Youth International (I really can’t decide on a specific one!), my favourite overall travel memory was when I did four days of trekking in rural Myanmar. I was exposed to some of the true mental and physical challenges that arise while trekking in remote areas and also got more acquainted with participating with homestays in tiny mountain villages.

In these small villages, I gained a real sense of daily cultural practices by the Burmese tribes and an understanding of their openness and kindness to strangers. Children didn’t chase after me to beg for money and candy, which was quite opposite to what I had grown used to while living in densely-populated and tourist-trodden big cities in Southeast Asia. The village children skipped after me to braid flowers into my hair and decorate my face with their native beauty products, simply due to their interest in experiencing a cross-cultural interaction.

It was through this profoundly authentic experience that I realized how I would love to facilitate and guide younger travellers through similar circumstances, and open up discussions about various styles of living conditions, global wealth gaps, and how the concepts of expectations and ideal happiness differ between various social groups.

When I think back on my independent backpacking experiences, this is the one that stands out that lead me in the direction of leading with Youth International, which I am endlessly thankful for.

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

I can confidently say that I have experienced profound growth both personally and professionally. The model of the program truly aims at fostering personal introspection and challenging yourself.

On the ground, I truly learned that I am stronger than I think I am. I began to see ways that I could apply this newfound confidence not only to working with my YI team but also to my very own life outside of my work with Youth International. I feel that I not only helped my students grow but by being right there with them through very intimate and challenging experiences, I was able to grow with them.

I also saw a lot of improvement in my team management and personal coaching skills between my first experiences in the field and those following. I noticed exponentially more growth from my first group of my students to my second, which in many areas I can say was due to my growing experience.

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

The best story I have heard was from one of the students that I had encouraged to pursue some overseas work following the end of Youth International's program. They told me about how they learned so much from their time traveling with our group and how they had brand new confidence when it came to interacting with people from very different cultures as well as jumping right into brand new work environments.

They were so proud of how much they had accomplished and were incredibly thankful for my guidance and support, which was so rewarding to hear.

If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?

I would absolutely choose the Asia program. It has so much adventure, cultural connection, and deep thinking embedded within it and a lot of room for personal interests of the students to lead the focuses of the daily activities. That being said, knowing how much planning and incredible experiences are woven into the Asia program, I have no doubt that any of their other current programs are nothing short of awesome.

What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?

While given expert coaching from the company directors, the team leaders have the ability to alter some plans and operations of the program on the ground that allows for individualized and dynamic responses from the students. This really brings the program to life, especially when the students jump at opportunities to truly make it their own. Most specifically while in Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama and countless other Tibetans living in exile, we were able to piece together being part of a one in a lifetime experience: we were able to figure out how to get passes to attend a live teaching by this incredible world leader and philosopher.

The director gave us his full support to adapt to the growing interests of the students and the opportunities presented to us in person. The look on my students’ faces when they were able to first see him in person was incredibly rewarding.

I understand that some more rigid programs likely would not have this luxury and ability to truly make experiences tailored to their groups while following itineraries and protocols. I was especially proud to see all of the hard work and planning are done by the Youth International management staff harmonizing with what the students were experiencing. I could really see how the students used the itinerary and guidelines created by Brad as a jumping-off point for their own curiosity and global education.

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

I think that the biggest factor is genuine human connections. A company that goes above and beyond to respect and care about their staff and clients not only attracts good team members but retains them.

Youth International has an awesome history of having great team leaders, many who come back to lead several other trips. Brad and Alex are both exceptional leaders who truly do care about the wellbeing of their leaders, as much as the students along for the journey. The entire experience feels more like working as a family and less like working for a travel and tourism corporation.