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Greenheart Travel

About

Greenheart Travel is a 501(c)3 non-profit, mission driven organization based in Chicago, USA. We are passionate about providing immersive cultural immersion experiences for teenagers and adults in countries all over the world.

We believe in the power of travel; a power that broadens your perspective and turns strangers into family. It’s this belief that motivates us at Greenheart Travel to provide life-changing adventures for anyone with a case of wanderlust. We’re your personal cheerleaders as you navigate the unpredictable joys, surprises, and challenges of life abroad. With unrivaled support and guidance, Greenheart Travel gives you the tools to make sure you’re more than a tourist, you’re a world citizen. You don’t just travel for the sights, you travel for a change.

Reviews

Default avatar
Quinn
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I was accepted to teach in a French school rather than homestay, the program was canceled after I had been accepted. Rather than making me shift to a different program, Greenheart worked with me and allowed me to do what I had initially intended. I adored my host family and school, and had a great connection with my teachers and the students in my short time there. My host family really helped me to adjust to France, and taught me a lot of words and phrases that I could use. They encouraged me to explore the town and city, and taught me how to cook and bake French foods. It helped me grow my confidence as a French speaker, and someone who works with students. I was supposed to do the 3 mos. program, but left after 1.5 weeks due to Covid. Greenheart and its partners were helpful and understanding, and did the best they could to answer my questions in such an uncertain time for the world. They answered my questions as best they could, and I am looking to do another program with them in the future. I cannot say how the price of the program matches what was provided since I did not get to fully experience it, but I do not regret going. I spoke conversational french, but far behind the level that I thought I did. I suggest being truthful with your language level, and learning the basics.

What was your funniest moment?
My host family had a blackboard in their kitchen that they wrote french-English words on. There were many fun times teaching the kids and parents new words. A favorite was "Zucchini", which my host brother shouted a lot, and taught his friends. My host parents spoke good english because of work, so they asked very specific questions about English words and sayings. In my first few classes, students asked me questions the entire period, and I loved the random things they came up with.
Default avatar
Madison
3/10
No, I don't recommend this program

Have had the idea to live in Norway for as long as I could remember and seeing that it was possible to do high school abroad program I thought all my dreams had come true! I picked Greenheart because I got the best impression from them and how communicative they were with answering questions and video chatting before applying and being accepted. The actual program was an entire different story. I paid $16k to get physically and mentally abused by my Danish host family while I was doing a Norwegian study program. The fact the family wasn't even Norwegian should've been a red flag to begin with. I understand there's only so much the company can do with screening families, but it's more so how Greenheart and their partner institution in Norway (STS) handled the situation. They continuously belittled me and downplayed the severity of the situation I was living in. I physically didn't feel comfortable living in my host family's house, after being threatened and manipulated numerous times- as well as having my independent phone plan shut off by them. I spent all my free time staying with friends and even some of my teachers at school who reached out to help. I had asked Greenheart/ STS to step in countless times, and called them nightly with my concerns. They were aware of all the gore details, but refused to do anything about it until my host family also requested I be transferred. My outlook on the program was tarnished after the first few months, but Greenheart/ STS couldn't understand why I had a hard time adjusting once I was placed in a new home. This experience was definitely one i'll never forget, and a lot of it I wish I could. It took almost a year for me to mentally get past what I experienced abroad through this program. The country and school was wonderful though! I definitely recommend traveling and doing study programs similar to this, just NOT through Greenheart.

What would you improve about this program?
I wish that the program understood how serious it is to be a minor living abroad with total strangers and cared more about how we felt. After all, I am the one that paid for this program and they disregarded everything I told/ asked of them throughout my trip.
Response from Greenheart Travel

Hi Madison, Thank you very much for providing your feedback on your experience on Greenheart Travel’s and STS’s High School Abroad Norway program. Student safety and well-being are our top priority and Greenheart Travel’s in-country partners conduct rigorous screening of potential host families. Through our monthly check-ins with students, host families, and schools, we ensure our students are having successful programs and have the tools they need to adapt to life in country. When about a month into your program you had a disagreement with your host sister, our 24/7 on-site and long-distance emergency staff members worked to make sure you and your parents were heard and supported. One of the greatest opportunities as an exchange student is to gain conflict resolution and cross-cultural communication skills. Our policy is always to be objective with all parties and work through any gaps in communication and cultural misunderstandings before changing host families. We set this expectation prior to departures, and cover it extensively in program preparation materials and during the online pre-departure trainings with students and parents. After working with you and your host family on the relationship for about a week, we ultimately decided to place you with a different host family in the same area. We’re sorry to hear that you felt that Greenheart Travel didn’t understand your challenges. Being an exchange student is one of the hardest, yet most rewarding, life experiences we can have. During programs, we frequently check in with participants and parents to offer resources, alumni tips, inspirational articles and Ted Talks, all with the goal of giving students what they need to gain confidence and have the best possible experiences. We’re glad to hear that in the end, you had a great experience overall in Norway, made new friends, and enjoyed your school. Thank you again for providing feedback. We wish you the best in any future international endeavor.

Default avatar
Lexi
2/10
No, I don't recommend this program

Signed up for the 3 month program in winter of 2019. You have a coordinator here in the U.S and another coordinator once you step foot in Spain. Both of them were great at accommodating my requests!! Although unfortunately I did have bad experiences with the two families I was with. One family was constantly arguing and it was a very strict environment that did not feel comfortable. I mentioned to the mother how I felt, left for some coffee, and the same night she chained the door for the first time. So I couldn’t get in the house and I had to find a hostel to stay in for the night I was a nervous wreck. I requested a change in families only to be kicked out by the second family on December 26 in the middle of the holidays just because I could not accommodate the mothers VERY last minute request to teach one of her children that day (I was out of town and she knew). Aside from this, both families expected me to have vast extensive knowledge on how to teach yet Greenheart promotes that it is not a requirement to have teaching experience. If you do not want to risk having any issues, you would be better off going on your own and renting a room. A lot of foreigners in Spain you can meet and explore the city with!

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Have back up plans and enough funds in case an emergency occurs.
Response from Greenheart Travel

Hi Lexi, Thank you very much for providing your feedback on this program. We take feedback very seriously and we’re always grateful to hear your experience and know how we can improve the program. According to our records, you did live with two host families, one from September to November and another from November until December 26, which was the end of your program and when your 90-day tourist visa expired. We’re sorry to hear that there was a misunderstanding in regards to your end date and when you should have left your second host family and left the country. We’re also disappointed to hear that you were uncomfortable with your host family placements. Both families have been in our network for almost 15 years and hosted several times. Navigating daily life with a new host family in a different country can be challenging, which is why Greenheart Travel prepares teachers before going abroad for this adjustment and why the in-country staff is available 24/7 for any questions or concerns you might have. Homestay teachers are provided support both locally and long-distance from Chicago while on program and are expected to reach out to program staff if there is anything that could make your experience go smoother. Each host family has different reasons for wanting to host a foreign tutor, but all are given the expectation that this is an informal teaching exchange and is not meant to replace formal English education. We continually work to reinforce the expectations of the program for both teachers and host families, so we will use your feedback to ensure there are no confusions moving forward. Thank you again for providing your feedback and we wish you the best in any future international endeavors.

Default avatar
Aubrey
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Thanks to Covid-19 turning everyone’s world upside down, it wasn’t quite the experience I initially signed up for, but I thought they adapted well. Taking the course online wasn’t as bad as I thought, because I learn much better in person, but I found it very helpful and very informative in how to go about teaching English in a foreign country. Lots of insights on not just teaching but how to deal with culture shock and behavioral issues. The instructor was very knowledgeable and made it very understandable.

What was the most nerve-racking moment and how did you overcome it?
Taking the course online while still being at home working full time, that was pretty difficult.
Default avatar
Heidi
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I have advanced degrees and thought this course would be like Community College—worth doing but not too demanding. Instead I found it required me to stretch to do well. Of course, that means I got more out of it than I expected. I took the course while I was also learning how to teach English 8 in public school online. It made for endless hours on the computer. Still, I had to push myself to complete the project required each week to my own satisfaction. It was worth the effort. But No Homestay!

What would you improve about this program?
I was not prepared for the complexities of navigating the course online. A more complete orientation before Week 1 of the course would have helped.

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Alumni Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

Grace Johnson

Grace Johnson

Why did you choose this program?

I chose this program because it had everything I wanted.

Prior to choosing Greenheart, I did a LOT of research comparing other study abroad agencies, and this one was the most cost-efficient and also had all of the things I was looking for in a program, including Japanese lessons (check!) and a homestay (check!). Those two things were really important to me because I wanted the most immersive experience possible, and I found that staying with a host family made a HUGE difference in the amount of Japanese I used and learned.

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

They assisted me with lots of information about my destination beforehand and provided me with a 40-page guide to my program. It included all of the technical information about the program as well as tips about carrying money, health, and safety, protocols for missed flights, etc. I found the information about cultural differences most helpful though.

The guide explained subtle differences in ideas, values, and attitudes beyond taking off your shoes in the genkan or keeping things very tidy. There was also a pre-departure online orientation where participants could ask questions and I connected with a few people before the program.

In terms of what I had to do on my own, I was responsible for organizing my flight, packing, and figuring out transportation to and from school. There was a lot of assistance prior to the program, but once you get picked up by your host family at the airport, you're pretty much on your own, but it wasn't challenging or scary.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Don't be afraid to venture outside of the basic itinerary of your program or to try something new. The best experience from my whole trip was a hike that was completely unrelated to the weekend trips at the language school (GenkiJACS). A friend of a friend who I met at GenkiJACS said I could come on a hike to a shrine at the top of a mountain, and it was probably the best day of my life. I was hesitant to go at first because it was with a lot of people I didn’t know too well from the school, and I knew my parents probably would’ve said “no” to me going with them. I’m a goody-two-shoes, so at home, I would’ve told them I probably couldn’t come along, however, my gut told me this could be something really amazing, and it was.

Japan was actually getting hit with the edge of a typhoon at the time, so the hike started off with a light drizzle which turned into a downpour as we neared the top and eventually climbed back down. It was the toughest hike of my life but I got to learn a little bit about everyone on the hike, made friends, and shared an experience that all of us will remember forever. The view at the top was incredible and the wind was so strong it made the rain hurt, but we all couldn’t stop smiling.

When we came back down, there was a festival that happened to be going on at a shrine at the base of the mountain and the people there were very kind and offered us some food and explained to us what was going on. We probably looked kind of crazy--9 Western hikers coming out of the mountain completely drenched, but they were friendly anyway.

If I hadn’t gone with my gut and ventured out of my comfort zone, that whole experience never would’ve happened, so trust yourself and take advantage of the opportunities that come!

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

For the first half of my trip or so, a school day would look something like this:

I would get up anywhere between 7 and 9 in the morning to get ready for class. On days when I had later classes though (the schedule varied between morning, afternoon, and late afternoon classes) I might not do anything until about 10. My host mom made me breakfast literally EVERY morning, which was extremely kind of her, so I would usually eat it and talk to her or if she had to leave in the morning I might eat it by myself. Then I would get ready for school and ride the bus to Hakata Eki. From there, I would walk about 7 minutes to school and go to class.

Class was fun and the teachers were always very nice and patient. Most of the class is taught in Japanese, which I thought I would struggle with, but it was actually very understandable. Depending on my class schedule for the day, I would either eat lunch between classes or afterward. If I had to eat between classes, I would usually go to the nearby FamilyMart (a convenience store) and if I was eating after class, I would go to Hakata Eki (walk) or Tenjin (walk or bus) to try different foods at the food stalls. When I had time, I would pick little sections of the city to explore before going back to my host family’s house for dinner. Sometimes I would buy postcards at Hakata Eki and mail them at a Japan Post or withdraw money from one of the ATM spots that are next to the post offices.

When I got home, I would shower and then eat dinner with my host family. We would talk about our days and I usually had my dictionary app ready so I could look up words I didn’t know. This is where a lot of cultural exchange and vocabulary expansion took place. Then I would do my homework in the family room and talk to my host dad and sister while they watched TV and go to bed.

For the second half of my trip, my schedule was essentially the same except I spent a lot more time out with friends in the evening and would sometimes go to dinner with them. My weekends were pretty varied. Sometimes I would go on trips with the school, sometimes on excursions with friends, and other times my host family would very kindly take me places.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

I don’t think I had anyone fear that was particularly intimidating, but I was probably most concerned about my interactions with my host family. I was worried that I would end up spending a month with a host family with whom my relationship would be awkward or negative. However, I ended up with the best host family I could ask for!

I tried asking questions and learning about them despite my broken Japanese, which really helped build a positive relationship with them. Dinners with them also had a huge impact on our closeness and I was actually able to open up to them about more personal issues because we’d all become accustomed to patience when trying to explain things over the language barrier.

Something I was more minorly concerned with was how people in Japan would react to my ethnicity. I’m half Caucasian half African American and have type 4 hair and a tan, so I wasn’t sure how that would go over in such a homogeneous country where fair skin and silky straight hair are considered beautiful. However, I wore my hair out many times anyway and, to my surprise, I got nothing but compliments!

There were multiple Japanese strangers who told me how cool and beautiful my hair was and I actually ended up doing a modeling shoot with a hairstylist! People were also very complimentary of my skin and eyelashes, and my trip ended up being quite the confidence booster!

How did you convince your parents to let you go on your trip?

Lots and lots of research.

My parents are extremely overprotective so I researched practically everything you could worry about and more. I researched at least 10 programs before choosing one and read the fine print of every policy. I made a slide presentation with the program details, cost estimates on the high and low sides, program reviews (from this site actually!), country safety, etc., and even that wasn’t enough at first. My dad made me email the Greenheart staff about whether or not they surveyed their program graduates because he wanted to know if they cared about improving the program and alumni feedback (he’s very business-oriented). The staff were very nice and provided me with all of the information he asked for. Additionally, he made me check the policies on Go Overseas to make sure they didn’t let companies pay them to write fake reviews, research whether or not there were radiation safety issues, and more.

The important thing is to be patient with your parents. There were many times when I thought the amount of detail they wanted was over-the-top, but I kept my composure despite my frustration and got them everything they asked for because I knew they just wanted me to have a great experience.

Stay calm, manage your tone, and don’t be afraid to email people persistently to get the information you need. It’s tedious but well worth the experience you’ll have once you get through the tough part.

Don’t give up!

Staff Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

Zoe Coulter

Job Title
Work Abroad Program Manager
From the moment that Zoe began writing to her pen pal from Germany at age 12, she began looking for any opportunity to learn about diverse cultures. She has spent time traveling throughout Europe and Central America, spending more extensive periods of time studying in Spain and working in Costa Rica. Today, she manages the work abroad programs at Greenheart Travel.
Zoe Coulter

What is your favorite travel memory?

Back in 2015, I was in Puerto Limon staying at a hostel and I met an artisan from Peru who was passing through on his way to Nicaragua. He took the time to show me how he crafted rings and bracelets. We also spent time chatting about how our own cultures differed. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about his work, travels, and his home country. I believe that the best way to learn about another culture is to get to know the people.

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

Working for a mission-based non-profit has inspired me to give back to my local community. Our company culture has really bled into my personal life and now I think I use my free time a lot more purposefully. I’m constantly looking for opportunities to mentor and volunteer throughout Chicago. Volunteering my time has become something that I sincerely enjoy.

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

It is great to see the growth that each of our travelers undergo during their time abroad. One of our Greenheart Travelers was adamant on honing her Spanish-language skills. Following her journey and hearing about her time working in Argentina was really rewarding. She spoke so transparently about the hardships of trying to grasp a second language—things such as learning a work vocabulary and learning the regional slang were challenging even though she had a good grasp of the grammar before the start of her program.

On top of work, she decided to pick up Spanish classes five days a week. Her days were packed, but the outcome was that she was able to speak Spanish confidently and she felt more comfortable in both social and work situations. As a result of her using her time intentionally to learn a second language and cultivate her Spanish conversational skills, she was able to form deep bonds with her coworkers and the friends that she made while working abroad.

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

If I had the opportunity, I would participate in the Thailand Marketing Internship. Interns can work with two great organizations, one of which is a non-profit dog rescue in Hua Hin. All Greenheart Travel interns get the opportunity to see how the organizations work from the ground up, and interns are encouraged to lead and innovate projects.

I think the program is a fantastic growing experience in the many respects. The first week is devoted to exploring the history and culture of Thailand, which is very interesting. Thai people are so loving and caring and I hear nothing but great things from our interns about how hospitable everyone has been to them. The program is short term, so it is a great way to get your feet wet if this is your first time traveling or if you have a few months open for travel.

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

I’m proud of the time and effort we take to help our travelers prepare for traveling abroad. We have created multiple resources to address culture shock and to support individuals before departure, during their time abroad, and after returning to their home country. We aim to make sure that our travelers feel prepared in every sense of the word before traveling abroad.

I think a unique aspect about our company is that the whole application process is very personable. For example, I speak with and interview every person that applies to the Work Abroad programs. There isn’t a person who goes through the application process that I don’t know on an individual level. All program managers make themselves available over the phone, via email, and even over mediums like Skype because we really want to connect with every Greenheart Traveler and ensure that they feel supported.

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

Believing in what you do is what I believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company. If you don’t believe in the value of what you’re doing, then that becomes evident in your work. Our whole team at Greenheart Travel is passionate about the programs that we facilitate and the impact that travel has on individuals, and I think that passion shows in the way that we interact with everyone that we come in contact with.

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