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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.

Founded
1985
Headquarters

200 W. Superior St.
Suite 300
Chicago, IL 60654
United States

Reviews

Grace
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I went to Fukuoka, Japan the summer after my sophomore year of high school when I was 16, and it was the best experience of my life! I met so many incredible people from all over the world at Genki JACS and my host family was the best anyone could ask for. I was originally only supposed to go for 4 weeks but I was having such an amazing time that I extended it a 5th week.

Host family: I was nervous when I first met my host family, but they turned out to be some of the kindest, sweetest people I'd ever met! They spoke some English, but I used Japanese with them as much as possible. I ate dinner with them every night for about the first 3 weeks (I later started to go out with friends as I got closer to people) and my host mom would always make wonderful meals. My favorite dinner was when my host mom prepared okonomiyaki for us. It was SO GOOD! I would also have lots of interesting conversations with them during and after dinner comparing different cultural things. Staying with them helped my Japanese improve significantly, as I always had my Japanese-English dictionary app with me so I could look up words I didn't know. This improved my vocabulary significantly. My host family also took me a few places such as to a baseball game, a music festival, and a shinto shrine (Dazaifu). Overall, they were the best host family I could've asked for!

Daily life: Usually I would wake up, go to school, get lunch out, and then explore around Fukuoka for a little bit. Fukuoka is extremely safe and I never felt even slightly in danger. I could walk around with my phone in my back pocket and my wallet with my bus pass in my hand and didn't have to worry about a thing. The train station Hakata Eki is also a huge shopping center, so sometimes I would go up to one of the higher levels where there was a stationary store and I would buy postcards to send to family and friends. There is also a Japan Post Bank very close to the station so I could easily send them there and the staff were very friendly and helpful. You can also take out money from your account at any Japan Post Bank, so look for those! I also enjoyed either walking or taking the bus to Tenjin where there is an underground shopping center around the train station and food hall where I would often try different foods. Then I would take the bus home, shower, eat dinner with my host family, and do homework in the living room while my host dad watched TV. Sometimes I would also call my family or friends from home from inside my room. As I made more friends, though, I would sometimes go out to dinner with them or explore around the city and hang out at Kego Kouen (Kego Park), which is where lots of young people hang out on Friday nights and weekends.

School: Genki JACS was a fantastic school with very kind, friendly, and patient teachers. I learned a lot there and always felt comfortable. I also became friends with many of the people in my classes, and I still keep in touch with some of them! People there are a range of ages and many are in their 20s (the youngest I met was 14), but it never felt uncomfortable. Everyone was friends regardless of age and was supportive of each other. We usually got about one worksheet a night and would go over it the next day in class.

Friends: Most of my friends actually ended up being other foreigners attending Genki JACS, but they were all incredible people. I would hang out with them a lot after or in between class and explore parts of the city with them. I even ended up going on a hike with some of them at a nearby mountain!

Fun experiences: By far my favorite experience was actually something I coordinated outside of the program with some friends, so I encourage people going on this trip to not be afraid to seek out some of their own adventures! I went on an incredible hike with a bunch of people from my program through the rain. It was super challenging, but well worth the breathtaking view at the top. We could see the city, the mountains, and the land for miles. Another fun experience was when I went with Genki JACS to Shikanoshima, a nearby island. The water was so clear and blue and we went to a hotel for part of the day where we had the option of onsen as well as a huge meal. My host family also took me to onsen about a week before the trip to Shikanoshima on the same day we went to the shrine. It was a very positive experience and I felt a lot less awkward than I thought I would've. I got a few curious glances being a foreigner, but everyone was pretty unconcerned and was just enjoying the relaxing experience. I'm glad I went with my host family because my host mom and sister were able to show me the whole cleansing process before getting into the water. I would highly recommend onsen to anyone going to Japan, as it was very body positive and helped me realize how unique all bodies are. Another interesting experience I had was doing some modeling! I'm biracial (African American and Caucasian) and so my tightly coiled hair was a marvel to many people in the country. I was walking in Tenjin station one day when a man asked to do my hair! So we coordinated and I brought some friends with me to his salon as a precaution and he styled my hair and we did a photo shoot! It was a lot of fun and made me feel a lot more confident in a country where I very clearly looked like no one else.

Take aways: I feel like I definitely matured a lot during my trip. I learned to be independent, to not shy away from new experiences and adventures, and to make decisions on my own. I would highly recommend this trip to high school and college students especially because the city is so safe and is a wonderful environment for growing and maturing without many risks. The people I met from around the world at Genki JACS really expanded my horizons and increased my desire to travel even more (my trip actually lead me to visiting a friend in their native country a few months later!). My Japanese language skills improved a lot and my vocabulary in particular expanded. Between classes and my host family, I started to be able to just shoot out phrases without thinking, which was an amazing feeling.

If you have any questions or want more info, I posted about it on my Instagram @graceinnihon. Feel free to message me about it!!

What was the most unfamiliar thing you ate?
Octopus. My first full day in Japan, I went to a music festival with my host family and afterwards, we got takoyaki. Takoyaki is a kind of dough-like ball with a little bit of octopus on the inside and lots of flavorful, savory sauces drizzled on the outside. I didn't want to be rude and seem close minded, so I ate it and it was actually delicious! I order them now in the U.S. when I'm at Japanese restaurants and I even introduced them to my friends. My host mom would also put octopus chunks in my salad sometimes for breakfast (she was the kindest woman and made me breakfast EVERY day!) which took getting used to but I grew to like it a lot!
Selfie
Jovany
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

i'm Sculable Jovany , i won a scholarship from Greenheart Travel to volunteer abroad as a First Time Traveler in the Tropic Ventures & Sustainable Forestry in Puerto-Rico !
Travel as a first time traveler to discover a new culture,a new place you never been before is exciting, you'll feel this when you landed.
arriving in Puerto-Rico, my homestay was in the southeast of the island in the mountains, 1 hour from San Juan. i was received by Thrity Vakil and Andrés Rúa, both the director of the Tropic Ventures,
My Bedroom and surrounded a mountains and near to a river i spend seven days in this paradise !
After hurricane Maria 'Las Casas De La Selva" wich is the home of the Tropic ventures has suffered a lot of majors damages to its infrastructure and the forest lost 99% of his trees ,since then many volunteers come to this place to bring their help in a way or another to the sustainable forestry !
During my days i accomplished my volunteers tasks like clearing and pruning the overgrowth in the Waste Water , keeping the house clean and help my host family with the dinner.
By afternoon my host family takes me out to discover the cities around, while there i have learn how to dance salsa, i have appreciate a lot my host family!
my experience in one word was amazing ! for sure i'll be back,
I recommend this program for everybody who open-minded, love exploring nature and have ability to work in in team ! you'll have such a great experience there!

What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?
the most surprising thing that i see during my stay in Puerto-Rico, was while i visited he Old San Juan , i saw a photographer who putting multiple parrots on a boy, on his head, on his shoulders and then taking a picture, all that within a minute without the parrots flying away !
David
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Overall, the Greenheart organization and its staff were easy to work with as was their local partner, Experiment Chile. The application process was smooth and efficient. I especially liked how they made all the arrangements to get me from the airport when I arrived to my host family. The first day of orientation was a nice bonus. My host family was kind and generous. During my time in Chile, the country was undergoing the most significant turmoil in the last 30 years. I was a bit surprised that neither Greenheart nor Experiment Chile checked in with me to see how things were going. For me, as an older, seasoned traveler, this was not a big issues. However, for a younger person that hasn't traveled much, this situation may have been disconcerting. Overall, my experience was very positive and I would recommend the Greenheart Homestay and Teach English program.

Lin
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

My experience with Greenheart was absolutely amazing! I was placed in the South of France with a small and sweet family. We all got along really well and the girls always made effort to learn and speak English! My experience was very unique because of my family's schedule. I would spend weekdays with them, but on weekends they would leave so I got to explore and do my own thing! Greenheart made my experience such a breeze! With such a reliable and responsive team, I never really felt like I was alone being abroad (especially as it's my first solo trip!). I loved my experience so much I decided to stay for the rest of the year here in France. It's an excellent program that I would recommend to anyone wanting an immersive, cultural adventure whether it be for professional or personal reasons!

If you did this all over again, what's one thing you would change?
If I did this program over, I would speak to my girls in even more English than I did. As their English level was quite low, I tried to meet them in the middle to get to know them better and communicate with them, or explain complex ideas. So there were times when I did speak French to them. I feel like I was afraid of making them hate English even more than they did, however I should have just spoken more English to get them to try even more. My advice: try to speak as much English as possible. Your family will love you and because of that they will try as much as they can to communicate with you! Be fearless!
Lin
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I had a really good experience taking my TEFL course with Greenheart. Kara was incredibly helpful and responsive. She answered all my questions, enrolled me, and solved any issues quickly and efficiently. Thanks Kara for making my overall experience a breeze! With Greenheart you don't necessarily have to take a TEFL course, you can opt to do one of their programs alone (check the site). But if you are also interested in doing TEFL it is great! The program helps you take care of the administrative work and you can then use your experience in the program towards your practicum hours! 2 in 1!

What was the most unfamiliar thing you ate?
The most unfamiliar thing I ate was actually rabbit! As I am doing Greenheart Travel's Homestay program in France, I celebrated Christmas here! With the family I was staying with they prepared rabbit braised in a mustard cream sauce, it was absolutely divine!

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Displaying 1 - 9 of 15

Alumni Interviews

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

Kyleen Newman

Born and raised in Boulder, Colorado, Kyleen is an avid rock climber, skier, and lover of life. Her current goals are to see the world, broaden her horizons, and impact the lives of the rad people she meets along the way positively!

Why did you choose this program?

I first heard about Greenheart Travel through a coworker of mine. We worked at a Mexican restaurant in Summit County. In between lunch and dinner rushes, we had a lot of time to talk, our conversations ranging from our previous travel experiences to our aspirations for life. She told me about how much her time in Greenheart's Colombia program had impacted her life, so when I found myself feeling trapped in the middle of an existential crisis half a year later, they were the first company I looked up.

I liked the idea of teaching English while traveling because I thought it would be a good way to give back to the community I found myself in. At the end of the day, I can't really say why I chose the Myanmar program in particular. Something about the thumbnail just caught my attention, and I thought "hey, I know next to nothing about Myanmar. No better way to learn about a culture than to LIVE IN IT." Within 15 minutes, I submitted my preliminary application, and just like that, I took my first step towards a wonderfully amazing adventure.

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

Greenheart Travel and their partner, NelcXplore, were incredibly helpful throughout the entire placement process, answering all of my questions along the way. After all was said and done, the only thing I really had to arrange was my flight to Yangon. They found a school for me to teach at (which in turn assisted me with housing arrangements), organized my visa paper work, picked me up at the airport, and provided me with a local SIM card.

Upon arrival in Yangon, I attended Greenheart's week-long orientation, which was vastly educational and helpful. During this week, we were able to observe classes at local schools, learn some basics about Myanmar culture and language, and do some sightseeing. In addition to this, I bonded quickly with the people in my orientation group, and that sense of community was profoundly soothing during this transition period.

On the whole, I felt much more prepared for the experience I was stepping into post-orientation.

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

I think the most important advice I could give someone preparing to join this program would be to drop any and all expectations. I think people often have preconceived notions of how life will be when they move abroad, and while it's important to know enough to be prepared for potential situations, it's also important to keep in mind that hardly anything ever plays out the way you had imagined in your mind. You will see and experience more if you are not blinded by the bars of your expectations. Being able to flow with the way things happen will vastly improve your experience. But also, maybe bring some earplugs. The dogs howl at night.

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

I work at a private school in Mandalay, and my typical week is very laid back: I think I got extremely lucky with my placement. I teach grades 1-4, with a focus on listening and speaking fluency, which means I really just get to play games that will give the kids opportunities to practice speaking.

My classroom hours total up to about 13 hours a week, and I maybe spend and additional 2-3 hours lesson planning (since the grades are split into multiple classes, I see each class twice a week and really only need 6 lesson plans per week). I'm not required to stay at school when I don't have class, so I have a ridiculous amount of free time. I am aware that this lifestyle isn't for everyone, but I find it to be a nice break after the 50-60 hour weeks I was working prior to my departure.

Outside of school, I fill my time with reading and drawing at nearby coffee and tea shops, doing at least an hour of yoga a day, teaching my inn keeper's daughter piano, and eating delicious and affordable meals (breakfast and lunch are provided, so I only really have to worry about dinner). On most weekends I climb at Yaedagon Taung with some local friends that I met through the Mandalay Rock Climbing Community.

All in all, it's a pretty peaceful existence, and life here is good.

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

My biggest fear going into my experience abroad was the fact I was going alone. I would say that generally as a human being, I tend to be on the anxious side, so I was worried about how my mental health would respond when I stripped away all of my comfort blankets and support systems, hurtling myself into the unknown.

I'm not sure that I necessarily overcame my fear... I just ended up gritting my teeth, taking a leap of faith, and buying a plane ticket (which felt like the last step that would make my decision to move abroad final).

Looking back now, I feel as though a lot of my fears were rather irrational, as everything turned out to be fine. The relationships that I've forged with people here, be it with the members of my orientation group, the teachers at school, or with my climbing friends, have been an integral part of my adjustment to life in Mandalay. Finding a sense of belonging in this community of people has fended off any feelings of isolation. While I still miss home from time to time, I find myself to be quite happy and content.

In addition to this, I have found that I actually really enjoy the solitude of living on my own in Mandalay with nothing tying me to my previous constructs of self. I find I have a lot more time to think and a lot more time to do things (like reading, yoga, and art) that had slipped from my list of priorities when I was too busy floating around my much larger social circle back in Boulder. Here I find that while I still have plenty of opportunities to be connected and social, I also get the time to recharge my introvert self.

Has living in a different country dramatically altered your world view or made you realize anything new?

Yes. I think that it is one thing to be aware that you were raised in an extremely privileged environment, but actually experiencing this privilege is something entirely different. I've always prided myself on having an open mind, but as always, there are certain things that you learn only through experience.

One of the most monumental realizations I've had so far is how much of a privilege being eco-friendly is. Being from Boulder, Colorado, love for the earth and respect for the environment are woven into the fundamental fabric of my being. Growing up in a place where environmentalism is so common, you almost forget that while individual efforts are important, some people simply aren't equipped with the resources or systems needed to minimize their impact on the earth.

For example, you won't find rubbish bins spaced conveniently every 100 ft, neatly compartmentalized into "landfill", "recycling", and "compost" here. No one is going to pay $12 for an "environmentally sustainable" paleo bowl with quinoa, or a vegan and organic shampoo bar. As I followed the global climate march on social media, Mandalay streets bustled with people going about business as usual.

Being here has given me a whole new sense of appreciation for systems that do allow for environmental sustainability, as well as highlighting the need for top-down reform, starting with large companies and corporations adopting eco-friendly policies and alternatives that will in turn trickle down to the individual level.

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.

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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