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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

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.
Default avatar
Taylor
8/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Zoe and the crew at Greenheart and IEP in Auckland are super friendly and approachable and were a ton of help. I wish the "orientation" and "tour of the Auckland" were a little more informational because I feel like everything they taught us was pretty self explanatory and things I had already learned in the day or two I was already in New Zealand. Otherwise I appreciated all of the help and the program brought me together with friends I will have for a lifetime. It was really helpful for my bank account to be set up for me, but the program says they "include a sim card" but honestly that was not that helpful because SIM cards are free and I had to go to the phone store to set up my own plan. Obviously the expense was a lot and I could've figured out the working visa on my own but it was nice having a helping hand and the program led me to meet some of the greatest friends I've ever had.

What would you improve about this program?
Greenheart should help set up phone plans and have a list of suggestions ready.

Also there should be a portal just for participants to use to find and post jobs. "BackpackersNZ" is the most common portal in NZ and everyone has access to it but it is the one that Greenheart and IEP suggest the most. It's nothing special. There should be more effort put into helping participants find jobs upon arrival and later into the program.
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Lauren
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I have been very lucky in my placement here. I live in a smaller city that provides me with the best of city and rural life. I only teach at one school and have wonderful co-teachers and lack nothing that I require to do my job. My home is within walking distance of my school and is very comfortable. I have loved every minute of my time here! For those thinking about this program I have a few pieces of advice... First, this is a teaching program, I am a certified teacher in the US so my transition has been fairly easy. I do know some however that have zero teaching experience or relevent course work that a struggling in their positions. Please keep in mind that this is a full time job, not just an extended vacation...Second, everyones experience is different. There will be bad co-teachers and apartments and you may live somewhere you werent expecting. You must be flexible and able to roll with the tide so to speak. Take advantage of this opportunity to experience a new culture. Eat the food! Speak the language! Meet the people...this is how you will get the most out of your experience here.

What would you improve about this program?
I would require that participants have some background/experience in education. This will make the experience less stressful to the participants and give the students better quality English instruction
Default avatar
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!
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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 !

Programs

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Alumni Interviews

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

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.

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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