What position do you hold at Global Routes? What has been your career path so far?
Kelsey: My name is Kelsey Smith and I am an international trip leader at Global Routes. This is a simple title for a complex position that entails several responsibilities. The first set of duties that I handle involves ensuring the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of the students on my program.
Service trips can be challenging, and for this reason students must be free from illness and injury to fully take advantage of the opportunity. I make certain that they are not participating in risky behavior and instruct them in proper self-care while overseas.
The emotional health of my students is of equal importance. Traveling to exotic destinations often places students outside their comfort zones. In these times of change and transformation, I step in as an emotional counselor to help students process the new thoughts and feelings that they experience.
The other major responsibility I handle is logistical: making sure that we have transportation, a place to sleep, and good food and water. So far, my career path has led me to work as a Greenpeace activist, academic tutor, ESL instructor, camp counselor, and surf/guitar teacher.
Did you volunteer abroad? If so, where and what inspired you to go?
Kelsey: I grew up with a family that took me on volunteer trips abroad. My parents always taught me to help those in need and took me along on their service trips. I began my international volunteering at the age of seven when I helped build a community center in a rural town in Baja California.
Perhaps my favorite volunteer project was in 2009-2010 when I taught health education and sustainable waste management to the Machiguengas, an indigenous group who live in the Peruvian Amazon.
I was inspired to go there because I had always been fascinated by the power and mystery of the Amazonian jungle and because I wanted to assist the Machiguengas as they integrated parts of our world culture into their own. The jungle and its people proved to be one of the most influential forces in shaping my current life path and personality.
What is your favorite aspect of Global Routes' programs?
Kelsey: There are so many aspects about Global Routes’ programs that I love; it is difficult to name a favorite! For starters, I love helping students explore new places and meet the people who live there.
It is incredible to see kids open up to the world in ways they never knew were possible and to see the transformation that it creates in them. I also love to go through this experience myself. Service travel broadens my perspective on life and makes me a better person.
The camaraderie that develops between the group members on programs is something very special. When a group of total strangers becomes a family there is a magic that animates us all and spills into every experience we go through together.
The anthropologist Victor Turner calls this feeling of intense togetherness and belonging “communitas”. Simply put, it is awesome. And hey, traveling around the world to visit far-off lands full of adventure and wonder isn’t half-bad either!
What's the best story you've heard of a volunteer's experience with Global Routes?
Kelsey: Again, it is hard to pick out the “best” experience I’ve heard from a Global Routes student, but I will try. One of the girls on my Ecuador 2014 trip, let’s call her “CG,”had an incredible relationship with her homestay mother.
The mother took her in like her own daughter and the two became an inseparable pair. They got up early everyday and milked the cows together, they prepared food together, and the mother was always treating CG in different ways to show her love for her.
At the end of the homestay they were both in tears on account of our departure. Before we left, the mother said to me, “What a shame that she has to go. She is like my daughter. What a shame you have to take my daughter away.” No words can adequately describe the outpouring of emotion that day.
Any tips for someone considering their first volunteer trip abroad?
Kelsey: The best advice I can give to someone considering his or her first volunteer trip abroad is: GO FOR IT! These trips are the experience of a lifetime.
You cannot yet imagine in how many excellent ways it will change you but I promise it will be legen-…wait for it…-dary. Not only is it a blast to go through, but also your service trip will continue to affect your life positively long after it ends. It will invigorate and inspire you. It will expand and transform you.
These opportunities come once in a lifetime and for some they never come at all. If you are fortunate enough to even be able to consider going then you owe it to yourself to do so. Don’t chase your dreams, go catch them.