Since I first began leading with Global Routes my life has completely changed. In 2006, I went straight from the middle school graduation at my first teaching job in Boston straight to Global Routes staff training. The experience of being surrounded by passionate, creative, and committed international educators has permeated the depths of my being and everything I've done since then.
I've brought the tools I've gained as a trip leader into everything I've done, from launching and nurturing a global health education non-profit (The Cookbook Project) to building community in the urban school classroom, to mentoring emerging leaders, the philosophy and foundation of Global Routes has had a transformative effect on everything that has happened in my life since that late Spring day in 2006.
There are too many stories to tell here. I’m particularly moved by the stories from students I’ve personally led on programs. I won’t get into specifics but I’m in awe of the commitment my students have on making sure that they use their time, energy, and resources towards creating a happier, healthier, and more just world.
They’ve taken the lessons they learn on their program and stand on that foundation for the rest of their lives. I do want to share a couple letters we’ve received from alumni sharing a little bit more about the impact of the program on their immediate and long-term future:
"It has been almost a month since I landed back in the USA. It has been almost a month since I lived an experience of a lifetime. I am writing this because I feel the need to express my joy and gratitude to all of you who make these journeys possible.
I entered this process with an unimaginable sense of anticipation...after all, I was embarking on a journey to Nepal. I expected to go and trek and live and help out people who were less fortunate than me. But, as soon as I arrived, I knew I had been so wrong. I went to give, to give to my village, a village that was supposedly "poor". But as the seconds, minutes, and days passed by, I realized that I was receiving more than I was giving, and I was fine with that.
We all came thinking we were superior to Nepal, superior to the true, simple life. And we were awakened from this fantasy we all held in our heads. Nepal became our second home, at least it became that to me. And even though, it has been almost a month since my feet were standing on that land, every time I look at pictures and every time I speak with my Nepalese family, I feel at home and I feel happy. I feel happy because I was able to learn simplicity and compassion. In reality, words cannot begin to describe my experience in Nepal.
I will never forget those long days walking the Langtang trail, shadowed by the immense Himalayan snow peaks, or that first night in Thanching when I ate dinner with my family. I know I have a second home now and I promised myself and my Nepalese brothers, that I would one day come back. That day that we left the village, I remember my Grandma fixing my shirt sleeve and just starting to cry.
We actually spoke since I spoke English and she spoke only Nepali. We had chucked corn together, we had laughed together at nothing, yet at the same time, we were laughing at everything. She cried and I cried, and I realized what this all meant. It's not about the amount of money in your wallet, but about the amount of love in your heart. A truly happy person is not the one who has the most, but the one who is happy with the least.
In Nepal, all our layers fell apart. We were one with nature and we were one with ourselves. We smelled, we looked dirty, we sweated, but every single day, we went to sleep with a smile. And then, the next day, I would wait for my brother's "Dai morning" (brother morning) to wake up, stand, see what surrounded me, smile and live another day. So, thank you for presenting this chance to me and to everyone to come!"
-GR Nepal Student
"I learned to listen to myself and the world around me through investing myself in every moment of the day, asking real, deep questions to people, and listening to their responses, making an effort to fit words to my experiences and investigating why.
All of that has contributed to a better self-understanding, and that will help me through everything I’ve wanted in my life -- knowing more about what I want to do, trusting my own judgment more, understanding my feelings for the people I love, and really being invested in my day-to-day goings on."
How can I answer that!? They are all awesome for different reasons. That said, I'll play this game.
The answer is Nepal. I've been to Nepal 5 or 6 times. I was just there last month. It's mind-blowing. The people are among the friendliest and most inquisitive on earth. It's incredibly safe. The Himalayas are breathtaking and inspire one to be their best self at every moment. The homestay experience is as authentic as anyone can imagine. The food is extraordinary and so healthy.
That said, our programs in Costa Rica and Ecuador are dynamite for Spanish language learners and naturalists, the Caribbean program is out of this world for students that love working with kids. The Tanzania program is unmatched in its authenticity. There is no feeling like taking your first step on the African continent. It really feels like home in a way that’s impossible to describe.
Great question. There are so many awesome abroad organizations out there. What makes Global Routes totally unique, is our focus on immersion and depth. Global Routes students are typically interested in going way beyond the tourist track to a place where they fully immerse themselves in the culture, and come out of the program with a greater understanding of the world and themselves.
Global Routes programs are also fresh EVERY year. We travel to new communities in partnership with our in-country staff so the experience is fresh for everyone, and our students have the opportunity to lead really meaningful and long-lasting service projects.
Our approach to experiential education is also quite unique. Global Routes was born out of the global leader in experiential and cross-cultural education, the Interlocken Center for Experiential Education (now Windsor Mountain International) in 1967 and our commitment to the depth of experience and understanding are unique in this field.
We integrate challenge and learning into every moment of a program. Our leaders are deeply committed to building a loving and supportive group and are always focused on supporting the positive growth of group dynamics throughout the experience. Leaders ensure that students take ownership of every situation and their own learning.
For me, so much of this is absolutely indescribable but I experienced it myself over the course of 7 years leading Global Routes programs, often with brand new co-leaders. The experience is magnificent.
The biggest factor in our success has been our commitment to the original vision and ideals of Global Routes programs. As the world has become more connected, and everything is moving faster and faster, we’ve stuck to our tried and true model of immersion in rural communities, connection through disconnection, and true experiential learning.
We’ve resisted the urge to transform our programs to appeal to less adventurous students or families. We know the Global Routes experience is unparalleled and we stick to the model that works.
We want to work with the students and families who are seeking a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will be foundational in their transformation into compassionate, capable, and curious adults. Our door is open.