The start of a new year, or the excitement that builds as summer break draws near make for perfect opportunities to visualize personal goals, outline bucket list items and enjoy milestone moments like graduation and the start of a new job.
This is your chance to get intentional about what you want to pursue in your personal life, even if that journey seems to go against the grain of what you have been told defines “success.”
If you are looking for how to translate your wanderlust into a competitive resume or college application, read on for some standout comments of how the road less traveled can often be the most educational and influential experiences to shape your life.
Alexa Ball, Greenheart Travel alumna English teacher in Italy:
Personally, my time abroad taught me again that learning to navigate different cultures and languages is the most meaningful way to learn about others and about yourself.
In the fall of 2015 I taught in Moncalieri, Italy in the Teach English in Italy program. I volunteered as an ESL teaching assistant in two local elementary schools and the local middle school. I wanted to experience education from the lens of an educator and explore how cultural and linguistic barriers influence teaching and learning in real time.
Logistically, I learned a lot about the Italian education system and how English education is organized throughout the country. My time in the classroom not only taught me about my host country, but about our own education systems in the U.S. and comparative perspectives on education.
Throughout my time in Italy, both in the classroom and in the homestay, I gained invaluable skills in intercultural communication both to ensure desired learning objectives for my students and to ensure my and my students’ basic needs were met. While abroad my sense of intercultural competency and understanding grew, and I believe I now have the knowledge and confidence to travel and work independently in an increasingly globalized society. Personally, my time abroad taught me again that learning to navigate different cultures and languages is the most meaningful way to learn about others and about yourself.
My time as an ESL teacher further solidified my desire to work in international education, specifically study abroad and exchange, and further pushed me to earn my MA in International Education at NYU. As a student in the field I am consistently drawing on my experience and knowledge gained abroad to enrich my studies and participate in internationally focused dialogue with my colleagues and faculty members.
Sara Thacker, Greenheart Travel Teach Abroad Programs Senior Manager:
Without my experience living abroad I wouldn’t have my job at Greenheart Travel, I would not have lived alone in Chicago for 4 years, or continued to travel the world – even when I had no one to go with me. It changed my life!
The summer before graduation I had just returned from study abroad and I knew I wanted to travel overseas once again. I didn’t even look for jobs in the USA (graduating in 2009 at the height of the recession didn’t help either), but it was pretty much a given to me that I’d go abroad again after graduation. To me, living and working abroad was a “grad school” of sorts, but in life experience.
I learned so much about myself and developed confidence that I could not have gained through any other medium. Without my experience living and teaching English in South Korea, I wouldn’t have my job at Greenheart Travel, I would not have lived alone in Chicago for four years, or continued to travel the world – even when I had no one to go with me. It changed my life!
Dwantica Moncrief, Greenheart Travel Work & Travel in Australia alumna:
Within a month of being back I was promoted to a supervisor position; management noticed the change in me since coming back from Australia.
Shortly after returning to the States I moved back to Arizona to continue working at the Grand Canyon National Park. Within a month of being back I was promoted to a supervisor position; management noticed the change in me since coming back from living in Australia. I became more open minded about life and about other people’s opinions.
I didn’t come back home the same person I was when I left; I grew up after that year and I am very thankful for the lessons I learned while working abroad in Australia.
Kara Menini, Greenheart Travel Teach and Work Programs Manager:
What I learned most from my journey to Thailand and back is that life and your experiences will never be what you expect them to be, but that’s not always a bad thing.
I graduated with a degree in English and a minor in French in 2012. Because I wasn’t financially able to study abroad in France, I decided to apply for the teaching assistant program to teach English in France as a means to live in France and finally be immersed in the language I had studied for 10 years.
After a 6-month application process, I was rejected for the program and left with no plans after graduation. I sulked around, depressed but still itching to live abroad for about a year before I looked into other means to do so, which is when I found Greenheart Travel’s teaching program in Thailand. Although completely different from what I thought my experience abroad was going to be like, Thailand was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences I could have asked for.
It opened the door to lifelong friends and lots of life lessons. It also led me to my current position at Greenheart Travel. What I learned most from my journey to Thailand and back is that life and your experiences will never be what you expect them to be, but that’s not always a bad thing. Mai pen lai, don’t worry about it, everything will work out in the end.
Anastasia Kallish, Greenheart Travel High School student in Austria:
I am a strong believer in educational self-growth. For now, I’m pursuing a different form of my beliefs, as I’m gaining a whole new knowledge of the world that can’t necessarily be gained from a lecture.
When I told people I was planning on doing a gap year in Austria, I got a plethora of reasons why I shouldn’t: “If you take a break, you’ll never go to college.” or “You’ll be a year behind all of your friends!” and “Don’t you just want to get college over with?”
I replied with a simple “no” every time. I know that I will go to some sort of college one day, perhaps not immediately upon returning to the States, but I am a strong believer in educational self-growth. For now, I’m pursuing a different form of my beliefs, as I’m gaining a whole new knowledge of the world that can’t necessarily be gained from a lecture.
I can’t get mad at those who question my choice to study abroad. I say this because Americans tend to be brainwashed into thinking there is only one right way of doing things: go to college, graduate, get a well-paying job, and hustle our butts off to pay off the mountain of debt that we acquired just to get that well-paying job.
Already within two months of being here, I’ve dealt with so much change that I would not have experienced if I went to college right away. I am not book smart, so quite honestly I do not think I would have been able to deal with university successfully at this point in my life.
My college is not a building – it is made of the high mountains, beautiful lakes, and diverse tongues.
Megan Arzbaecher, Greenheart Travel Volunteer and Short Term Programs Manager:
I developed valuable life skills like self-confidence, time management and cross-cultural communication.
I had a part-time retail job at a fair trade handcraft shop during my senior year of college, and after I graduated with a degree in history and international studies, they offered me a full time position. I accepted, since I was totally unsure of what else I wanted to do, and the steady stream of easy money was great. After a busy and frantic holiday shopping season, I was feeling totally burnt out and looking for something new. I decided to move to Santiago, Chile, to volunteer intern with one of the fair trade partners the retail shop worked with.
It was a really fast turnaround time – from the moment I found out about the opportunity to when I left was only 5 weeks – so I didn’t really have time to prepare. I moved there without an apartment or an understanding of the internship program. I totally would have benefited from a more structured internship program, with support and help, because my first month was really challenging. I had to find an apartment in a foreign country, figure out commuting to my office, budget my 5 months there – while still dealing with the language barrier and culture shock.
Nonetheless, it was the most empowering experience of my life because I learned how to depend on myself above all else. I can’t overstate how much I learned about myself and what I was capable of from moving abroad on my own. I developed valuable life skills like self-confidence, time management and cross-cultural communication. I put this internship experience on my resume afterwards, and I’ve gotten asked about it in nearly every interview I’ve had. It’s a great opportunity for me to talk about the experiential learning and skill building that happens through travel.
Grant Bouwer, Greenheart Travel High School Programs Coordinator:
I learned professional, transferable skills like public speaking, organization, and administrative management while at the same time I learned life skills in a new and exciting environment.
Two months before graduating college with a degree in International Development I realized I wasn’t ready to settle into a comfortable job in the United States. I had an insatiable desire to do something out of the ordinary. With this realization, I began looking into my options while keeping the bucket list I had created three years before on the forefront of my mind, which included teaching abroad.
Fast-forward four months and I was living in Suwon, South Korea, teaching English to elementary students. This experience was exactly what I needed post college. I learned so much about myself and the world around me. I learned professional, transferable skills like public speaking, organization, and administrative management while at the same time I learned life skills in a new and exciting environment.
I learned to communicate in a language that I didn’t speak, navigate a public transit system that I had never used before, and I learned that I can survive and thrive on my own in a foreign land. Finally, teaching abroad helped me focus in on my passions and my strengths, which lead me to my job here at Greenheart Travel.
These are just a few of many alumni stories that highlight the importance of intentional travel in shaping our academic and career goals. As you look ahead to the possibilities of a new beginning, remember to define success in ways that are meaningful to you.
It takes courage to forge a new path that feels authentic, but by taking that first step toward your dreams, you are not only empowering yourself, but will most likely stand out as a leader along the way.