Intercultural Outreach Initiative

Intercultural Outreach Initiative (IOI)

About

Mission: To provide international education programs that support the education, conservation, and social development of isolated communities by assisting local institutions in sustainably handling the human-environmental intersection.

The location
Join us, on a once in a lifetime opportunity to practice conservation through education and social development in some of the most exotic and significant wild places on Earth. From the virgin shores of Cuba, to the cradle of evolution in the Galapagos; we offer up memories, like no other.

Website
www.ioi.ngo
Founded
2006
Headquarters

2103 Coral Way
Suite 202
Miami, FL 33145
United States

Summer special

Sign up to volunteer with IOI in any of our sites during June, July, or August and receive 15% off!

Reviews

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

It seems that dreams are there to be made. My dream was to go to the Galapagos Islands to work with giant tortoises and discover this unique and wonderful place. So I gave the means to realize my dream and left for the adventure.

During one month, I had the opportunity to feed the tortoises at the breeding center, to see the birth of baby tortoises and even to measure them. Despite the prejudices about the slow speed of the turtles, taking care of giant tortoises is not that easy but always brings great moments and memories. Moreover the way to take to go to work is already an amazing experience as I met everyday about 15 flamingos, many marine iguanas and other lizards or birds on my 30 minutes walk.

I really enjoyed my free afternoons to visit the islands, to go on excursions around the island and to simply relax on the beach. This a very good rhythm that allowed me to discover a new culture and a new place while gaining professional experience in a wonderful environment.

The staff was great, always ready to help me. Living in a host family was a very nice experience as well to learn more about their culture and improve my Spanish skills. Working with giant tortoises is definitely a once in a lifetime experience!

What was the most unfamiliar thing you ate?
I once ate an avocado icecream. I actually wouldn't recommend it but it's always funny to try new things!
Default avatar
holly
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

This was one of the best experiences I've ever had, and I've traveled to over 20 countries. Besides the helpful work on coral reef restoration, the beautiful and remote location of this work made it worthwhile. Our small group was taken into this community where we learned all about Cuba, its people, and its customs. For a short 10-day stay, it was one of the most immersive trips I've ever been on. I would say 10 days is the minimum! Stay longer if you can!

We spent each day scuba diving in the reef, led by an expert master diver who educated us on the reef and the work that they're doing. While sometimes we didn't feel as effective doing the hands-on reef work, I think it's more important as an educational tool for travelers to bring with them.

Not only was this some of the most beautiful diving, the food they cooked was incredible! Freshly caught seafood every day, the freshest juice, and served three times a day. It felt like a resort more than volunteer service.

We want to come back, to spend more time in Cocodrilo, to visit our far-away Cuban family, and to work more with a brilliant and fledgling program.

What would you improve about this program?
Our Spanish wasn't the best (but did it get better!), but a bit more information and transparency about the coral reef work and the long-term work IOI has been doing would go a long way. We found this out gradually, and again, there was a bit more of a language barrier than we expected. Knowing a decent amount of Spanish would make things so much easier!
Response from Intercultural Outreach Initiative (IOI)

Holly, thank you very much for your review and thank you so much for your kind words about our program. We are happy to hear that this was a great experience volunteering with us! It is amazing how one's Spanish improves as we are immersed - we're so glad to hear you had a great experience practicing your Spanish. We agree that the longer people stay, the better. We hope you join us again in the future!

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

I had such an incredible, life changing experience on my trip with IOI to Cocodrilo. Pre-Trip communication was clear and my pre-trip questions were quickly responded to. I felt extremely prepared and well informed for my trip.
During my trip I felt well taken care of and supported by the IOI Cuba staff. More specifically, my time spent in Cocodrilo was a perfect mix of beautiful, safe, and exciting. The volunteer opportunities were very accurately advertised and the diving and snorkeling were breathtaking. I gave the social scene a 10 because I loved interacting with locals, heading to the "circulo" to listen to music and talk with locals.
The house in Cocodrilo (Villa Arrecife) is very comfortable, the community is nice, safe, and engaging. The food was really amazing - delicious, filling, and healthy!
It felt so empowering to be a part of this program and to be able to help. There is so much to do and so much to see in this small town! I was in Cocodrilo for 3 weeks and could have stayed longer. I cannot wait to be involved in another program with this organization!

What would you improve about this program?
There is really nothing I can think of in the realm of improvement.
Response from Intercultural Outreach Initiative (IOI)

Thank you very much for your review, Jamie! We are happy to know that our communication with you before the trip was clear and that you felt prepared to travel to Cuba. We are also happy to see that you felt empowered and that your experience was a blend of conservation and cultural experiences. That's exactly what IOI strives for. Please come back any time. The community of Cocodrilo missed you!

Read my full story
Default avatar
Richard
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

IOI's project at EL Jobo, Costa Rica is the perfect opportunity to learn about marine conservation, marine wild life, birds, and support a sustainable sea turtle project. One of the best parts of the experience in my opinion is the possibility of getting involved in community activities and work beside communities in their efforts towards marine conservation. Furthermore, getting to see the sea turtles is awesome!

The location is perfect! you can get to see the sunrise and the sunset since you can easily go up to the hill.

In general, the experiences is perfect for people from different ages and backgrounds.

Thanks for everything!

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

If you are looking for a really meaningful opportunity to gain experience with on-the-ground community-based conservation in Cuba, I highly recommend going to Cocodrilo with IOI! I had the opportunity to be involved in and learn firsthand about the innovative marine conservation/education programs being led by local community members in conjunction with IOI. Cocodrilo is an incredibly unique place with a really special potential to serve as a model for eco-tourism benefitting both the community and the environment. Not only was it wonderful to get to know such a great town, but also once you see what's underwater you will be mesmerized. A truly beautiful place.

What would you improve about this program?
Have more vegetarian options at meals.
Response from Intercultural Outreach Initiative (IOI)

Thank you for the positive feedback, Alex! It's true as a volunteer in Cocodrilo, you'll see firsthand the exciting marine conservation initiatives and be able to participate in them. I can speak for the community members when I say they loved getting to know you! And since you've been there, the chef has really expanded the option for vegetarians. You were probably one of the first vegetarians Cocodrilo has seen (!) but now the chef can accommodate all restrictions--from vegetarians to vegans.

Programs

Displaying 1 - 3 of 3

Alumni Interviews

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

Jamie Preira

Jamie lives in Colorado and is the Program Director of an outdoor education facility in the Rocky Mountains. She graduated with a BA in Environmental Studies and minors in Spanish and Anthropology from Eckerd College. She recently completed her MA in Environmental Studies with a focus on Environmental Education through Prescott College.

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Why did you choose this program?

IOI has stood out to me because of the unique volunteer opportunities and exceptional locations. The biggest thing that drove me to IOI is their mission behind working with small communities and their focus on education, conservation and community development. I like that IOI is multifaceted and runs study abroad programs, outreach projects and then incorporates volunteer opportunities into those projects.

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

I organized my own air travel, but IOI had everything else organized. They provided a great pre-trip departure document that helped me feel prepared and confident in my travels. It can be daunting thinking about arranging car rides in a foreign place, getting to the airport, and dealing with airline delays in another language. I was taken to the airport by Enrique when it was time to fly to Gerona, he stayed with me until we knew the plane was on time, and then I received the same phenomenal service when I was arriving and departing from Gerona. It made my travels so much easier knowing that I was always going to have someone waiting for me on the other end of a plane ride.

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

IOI’s pre-trip departure packet had me so prepared for this trip that I would recommend reading through any pre-trip information you are given. There was nothing I wish I had known ahead of time because I really feel like IOI prepared me for every scenario – i.e. the fact that WiFi is not common in Cuba and the process to go about buying an internet card etc. Their responses to my last minute questions were so quickly responded to and I always felt well supported before and during my trip.

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

An average day consisted of a morning dive (volunteering). We would complete fish counts, conduct trash pick-ups, hunt lion fish or clean the PVC where the corals were growing. Afternoons were free time and self-driven. There’s great snorkeling and exploring around Cocodrilo. The community is amazing and full of great people to get it know. I was in Cocodrilo for 3 weeks and I was never bored.

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 was the language barrier and traveling alone. Being forced to overcome my fears because that was my reality. Everyone was always willing to help in any situation and everyone was very patient with me.

My fears actually became the most empowering part of my trip.

It was really empowering to have traveled in Cuba for a month by myself solely on the Spanish I know.

What was your favorite part about being on a small island in Cuba?

Growing up in Miami, I have always wanted to travel to Cuba but I’m not very attracted to visiting big cities, so heading to Cocodrilo was absolutely perfect for me. Getting back to my roots as a diver and being in a small town where you can really get to know people and spend quality time with them was one of the best parts of this volunteer adventure.

Staff Interviews

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

Daniel Ponce-Taylor

Job Title
Strategic Partnership Advisor
International business development, experiential education and service-learning consultant with 15+ years experience in setting up, managing and evaluating high impact conservation and community development projects in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and South Pacific. Long term experience in international networking. Currently focusing on designing and developing high quality environmental and development service-learning opportunities for international students in Cuba and Galapagos.

Passionate about helping students reach their maximum potential and find new ways to develop their careers.

My role is to help IOI find new partners, both academic and others who will help promote IOI’s programs in different corners of the world. I also work in contributing to increasing IOI’s impact on the ground and how to engage a wider community in becoming part of the solution.
Daniel Ponce-Taylor

What is your favorite travel memory?

Some of my best travel moments are linked to the ocean, where I feel most relaxed and at home. I remember a dive I did in Australia, in the Great Barrier Reef, where after an amazing dive exploring and being mesmerized by the colours and diversity present, we started hearing some "weird" noises.

We looked around and the noises kept getting louder. It was after a few minutes that a shape appeared not too far away, and the noises kept getting louder and louder, that we realized that a whale was close by.

You can imagine how amazed we were, and our jaws dropped and nearly our regulator! What an amazing memory!

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

IOI is a special organization. As a non-profit, we make decisions differently than other volunteering and service-learning providers. The priority is always the sustainability of the communities where we live and operate and the objectives set by our local partners and IOI. This means that when promoting our projects, we do it very differently than with other organizations I have been involved with.

I have also had higher engagement with the UN network since one of IOI's global objectives is to have a proactive engagement with the UN and the Global Objectives and Sustainable Development Goals.

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

Many, difficult to choose one, but I love one from a biologist major, who went to IOI's Galapagos Tortoise conservation project. Her feedback was amazing, she had an incredible time, but what I really liked was the fact that she chose that project as she wanted to experience being in the same ecosystems that Charles Darwin was many years ago and where he developed his theory of evolution. She loved discovering similarities between Darwin's books and today's Galapagos and species.

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

Difficult to say as all programs and locations are amazing!

Any of the Galapagos programs; as a marine biologist, Galapagos is THE place to be, an evolutionary lab, where you can see nature at it's best. And on top of the projects, I could do some amazing dives in my free time...and yes, diving in Galapagos is out of this world!

And of course, the Marine and Coastal ecosystem conservation project in Cocodrilo, Cuba. Cuba has one of the most pristine reefs in the Caribbean, with a higher percentage of coral coverage and bigger fish than nearby regions and countries. So being able to contribute to the conservation of this reef structure would be an amazing project to be part of.

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

Commitment to the local communities!

Our staff works super hard, always placing our host communities and projects as priorities. As we live in those communities, we feel highly responsible for balancing the positive and, the potential, negative impact that having international participants and volunteers can have.

I am very proud of the work done in the Galapagos where many local initiatives have developed into fully functional operational local coops and community groups, achieving the ultimate objective of ownership and empowerment.

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

As I mentioned before, I think IOI is different in that decisions (business and operational) are always made with the sustainability of our host communities in mind. IOI has had organic growth, slowly developing the projects and expanding areas of influence, working with local organizations and community groups, resulting in projects that are owned by all stakeholders and where participants feel their contribution from day 1.

More Interviews

Professional Associations

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