“We both want to travel the world and help as many people as we can. We think it is important to experience all different types of places in order to help us form a more accurate representation of the world that we live in.”
Your student’s flights are booked, passport renewed, and bags are packed! Now for the actual hard part.
Logically, you know that your teen is in professional hands (GLA’s 5-Point Safety System, program design and expert staff are second to none), but let’s face it—your baby bird is about to fly the nest, and for the first time ever, you’re no longer in control. Trust us, the thought makes us want to hug and kiss our own, too!
We understand that parents can feel stress and anxiety during and leading up to programs, so we collected some insider tips from our team and from past GLA parents on how to cope this summer.
Tip #1: Take a deep breath
Your student is in the hands of travel and education professionals. Our advice is to check their session’s program blogs regularly (updated weekly or more often by students themselves), and take comfort in the fact that GLA has led life-changing trips effectively for thousands of teens over the last decade.
Tip #2: Find community with other parents
Join the GLA Parent Facebook Group, which is an exclusive resource for current and prospective parents of GLA teens. We’re all moms and dads who want the best for our kids. Hearing from other parents who also have a student abroad can help make the waiting more bearable!
Tip #3: To call or not to call
While throughout the year, we as parents are used to communicating with our kids periodically each day, try to avoid setting a call time schedule or suggesting a daily check-in. Students are there to immerse themselves in their program, and often have long days packed with community service, cultural excursions and leadership activities. Let them have this chance to enjoy their experience and be really present.
Tip #4: No news is good news
Becky, mom of Serena, who traveled with GLA to the Dominican Republic, shares that throughout her daughter’s trip she decided to try to live by this mantra. “If I hadn’t heard anything negative (or anything at all), she must be too busy having too good a time to call me—which is the reason I sent her in the first place. When she comes home, she will have plenty of time to tell me all about her adventure.”
Tip #5: Be prepared for your child to return more grown up
“GLA programs offer kids a chance of a lifetime to experience another culture, interact with the people, and better their communities in a fun and safe environment,” says mom of Nikky, who traveled with GLA to Guatemala.
“Like most American children, my daughter left home agonizing over if she would have good cell phone reception. She returned with new friends from across the country, incredible stories, fantastic photographs, a desire to make a difference, and an overall newfound maturity that I hadn’t expected. She is a better person for having been a part of the program.”
Contributed by Margaret Chiu
Moments of confusion, embarrassment, learning and realization are inevitable when you immerse yourself in a second language.
But, not to worry! These are the harmless experiences that make immersion such a powerful and effective method of language learning: words jump out of the vocabulary book and become part of your day-to-day life. Social situations with native speakers (even the awkward, fumbly ones) are the situations where you learn “real Spanish”—slang, irony, humor, local culture.
If you’re signed up to join us on our Spanish immersion programs this summer in Costa Rica, Peru and Spain, we can’t wait to meet you. Read on for some tips to kick-start your language learning while volunteering abroad this summer.
1. Think quality over quantity
You’ll be surprised to know that many expats remain unwilling or unable to hold a conversation in Spanish despite having spent months abroad. On the other end of the spectrum, it’s always inspiring to meet diligent language learners who speak nearly flawless Spanish despite going abroad with little to no knowledge of the language.
It’s not just about how much time you spend in country; it’s also about the quality of interactions in the target language. Language acquisition is two-sided: Quality interactions require engagement and effort both from the international student (you) and the host country language partners (everyone around you in country, including your Home Base staff, program directors and residents you’ll meet). We’ve got the second part covered, so try to intentionally pursue opportunities to converse in Spanish.
2. Make Excuses to Strike Up Conversations
You may feel silly or embarrassed at first talking to strangers in flawed Spanish. But constant practice is the only way to get better, so take a deep breath and ask away! Take up the habit of intentionally looking for ways to start short conversations with people you encounter in your host country. For example:
- Ask your bus driver how long it will take to get to your next destination
- Ask the local staff (not your English-speaking Program Director at your Home Base) to explain an unfamiliar dinner item. Way more fun than opting for PB&J every time you eat!
- Ask a flea market or crafts fair vendor about their product
- Ask somebody on the street to take your picture (more social than a selfie stick)*
These are all simple, quick interactions. But over time, these thirty-second conversations can build confidence and alleviate the discomfort of speaking a foreign language.
*Always stick with a buddy and don’t stray too far from your group—practice adventurous learning but safe, savvy traveling too!
3. Just say NO to English
As a GLA student, you’ll be meeting a lot of English-speaking peers from your home with GLA country, and likely forming lifelong friendships! However, try not to get stay in the English-speaking expat bubble at all times. When you go out into the community in a group, rather than exclusively talking amongst your new best friends, try to ask questions of the local residents as well.
Similarly, at Home Base, don’t just smile politely at the local staff. Make it clear that your interaction with them in Spanish is important to your learning experience. GLA works with local communities and hires residents intentionally, and part of the reason for that is to give students a more immersive experience.
If you follow these three tips, a volunteer abroad experience can be an incredibly powerful tool for both language learning and a rich intercultural experience.
Que te vaya bien!
Contributed by Margaret Chiu
There are plenty of ways to volunteer and there’s most likely one that fits your liking. Whether you’re looking for something close to home, at your college, or abroad – there’s a way to get involved and spend your time. We’ve compiled a quick list to make things easy!
If you’re in your hometown:
- Tutor. Maybe it’s your friends little brother that could use some help with math or someone at school. It could be a person you know or a complete stranger. Take a look at local organizations like Boys & Girls Clubs of America and your local library to see what’s out there. And if school isn’t your jam, you could always help by coaching a sport!
- Write. This could be anything from a letter to a congressman about an issue your passionate about to writing a letter to troops who are far away. Check out Operation Gratitude, Soldiers Angels, or do a quick Google search to find other organizations that can send your letter to stationed military. It’s like being a pen pal but for a good cause!
- Donate. Give your time to a neighbor who might need help with yard work, or gather your friends together and bring your old clothes to a Goodwill. Donating and hanging out, talk about a score! You can also spend some time at a retirement home and play chess, checkers, or hear about someone else’s life stories. The opportunities are endless.
- Community Service Project. Whether you’re at Berkeley or Yale, both have a project that gives back to the local community. After spending some time in the area, you’ll have learned a lot and the skills you’ve acquired will be used in community service. Plus you’ll get a certificate for 8 hours worth.
- Academic Trips. While not really a form of volunteering, you’ll definitely be learning. Depending on what you’re studying – medicine and public health, law and government, and many others – you will visit a professional environment in that field. Make sure to make connections to those working because who knows, the opportunity may arise for you to volunteer at that organization!
- Explore. When part of springboard you’ll have plenty of opportunities to venture into the city, to dive into the subject you chose to focus on, and to meet new people. Take all of it in and let that inspire you in a different way. Maybe it will confirm what you want to do academically in college or give you a new idea on how to get involved in that field, or perhaps try something different altogether.
If you’re a part of the GLA volunteer programs overseas:
- Teach. There are many opportunities for you to help teach English or literacy to kids who are struggling with it. A great country to look at is the program in Africa like Tanzania. And if science is more your thing, then look into the GLA program in Bali, where you’ll be sharing about modern day medicine.
- Work. Regardless of what GLA program you decide to partake in you will end up working in that environment. It could look like anything from building a house to restoring traditional temples. Talk about trying new things! Be sure to check out the different countries that GLA has to offer and see which one you would want to spend the most time in!
- Give Back. Without even realizing it, you’ll be giving back to the community that you are in. From helping with the specific destination needs to becoming friends with the locals, you’ll have made an impact in the country.
Which of these wonderful volunteer opportunities for teens would you choose? Let us know in the comments!
Contributed by Samantha Watkins