From our homes to yours, we wish you a holiday season filled with peace and joy.
We’ve heard time and time again that volunteer experience is great for teenagers.
It teaches them responsibility, the value of hard work, and highlights the incredible impact that we can have on the lives of others. Volunteering also, as we know, is a great way to boost self-esteem, because it feels great to help others.
Benefits of Mission Trips for Students
In an increasingly global society, volunteering internationally is also growing in popularity, among both adults and teenagers. Most individuals travel with an established organization, as a member of a group- and the majority of these programs are affiliated with a religious organization.
For many families who aren’t religious, or who don’t practice regularly, however, these trips can be alienating. The volunteer work is still valuable, but the additional activities on the program may not be what everyone is looking for.
Volunteer Opportunities for those looking for a Non-Religious Mission Trip
Fortunately, there are great options and opportunities for volunteering in a developing country without any religious affiliation. These types of programs, such as those operated by Global Leadership Adventures, focus on meaningful service work and pair cultural activities and adventures alongside volunteering.
These programs give teenagers the chance to make a difference, while allowing them to experience what life is like in another country- and they are open to students of all faiths and backgrounds.
The world is talking about “green” living – sustainability and energy efficiency to protect our environment, both at home and abroad. Through local efforts like the Portland Sustainability Institute and Siemens’ National League of Cities, individual boroughs and towns across the U.S. are taking action to improve the health of both residents and the environment they live in.
The Portland Sustainability Institute – and organizations like it in New York City, Chicago, Atlanta and many other locations across the nation – find and implement unique ways to capitalize on limited city space. Organizers and volunteers use rooftops, playgrounds, courtyards and public areas to cultivate healthy, “green” space.
These spaces help make the most of urban areas to build healthy, environmentally-friendly cities that couple efficiency for residents with care for the environment that will make it habitable and welcoming for future generations.
Sustainability Efforts in America
The Sustainable Cities Institute sponsored by Siemens Corporation makes a strong case for a green infrastructure. But how can the bridges, roads, tunnels and transportation systems that make our society work really be “green”? It takes a little creativity and research of some of the problems these urban areas face to find new ways.
The environmentally aware have found many creative ways to craft an infrastructure that will form the foundation for green cities that will be sustainable for many generations to come.
By crafting roads and building in ways that support healthy stormwater runoff, pollution can be curtailed before it causes major problems for a city’s water supply. Efforts like this do more than just helping the environment; they also help improve public health, save on energy costs and diminish the damages of flooding, especially in flood-prone areas.
Depending on the location and architecture of the space being considered, green roofs are also a great way to get growing things into a concrete jungle, brighten a space, provide natural insulation that can help reduce heating and cooling costs, and possibly even reduce greenhouse gases.
By thoughtfully reworking neighborhoods and using green practices in new construction and infrastructure design, city planners and developers are finding countless creative ways to save energy costs. But this trend isn’t just related to America or its cities.
Going Green Overseas
Even when we step outside our comfort zones and into an unfamiliar field to study abroad or volunteer overseas, we have options to share some of what we’ve learned with different cultures and help set up/teach green practices around the world.
GLA offers a selection of service trips that let you get involved in protecting the environments of other nations, working toward sustainability and conservation of beautifully unique, biodiverse areas. High school summer programs allow future leaders and city planners to get a taste of another culture and learn about conservation and city planning. This type of study trip makes a fantastic investment of a summer that will pay dividends for life.
Here are a few of GLA’s top environmental high school volunteer abroad programs that let students experience the diversity of green culture for themselves.
Empowering Island Communities in Bali
As if it weren’t enough to spend a summer on a beautiful Pacific island, now students can also get work with cutting edge non-profit organizations on the Empowering Island Communities service trip. Students also help out with sustainability projects unique to an island culture.
Protect the Pacific in Costa Rica
GLA’s Protecting the Pacific service trip gives you the chance to explore the lush Costa Rican rainforests and ways to conserve this Central American gem. Students and volunteers learn about conservation of beautiful ocean waters — and maybe even surf the waves and snorkel to see the rich, diverse ecosystems living under the surface!
Sustainability in India
A trip to India gives volunteers a look into the environmental sustainability issues surrounding the Himalayan mountains, especially small Tibetan villages and the challenges residents face. By hiking those snow-capped mountains and hearing from refugees of the Tibetan refugee community, students will get a taste of sustainability and culture they couldn’t find anywhere else.
As you prepare for your service learning adventure, you’re probably anticipating some culture shock. What you might be less prepared for is the fact that you could shock the culture. It definitely goes both ways. Though probably not intentional, you could create shockwaves by using offensive American terminology.
Keep international communication clear and friendly by avoiding these five words:
Seems harmless, right? In some countries, “coolie” is an insult used to label an uneducated blue collar worker. Because “cool” sounds dangerously similar to “coolie,” it’s best to avoid using this favorite American term.
Speaking of America, that’s another word you’ll want to avoid in your volunteer abroad adventures. No matter which GLA destination you choose, the word “America” is not a good choice when referring to your homeland. Because “America” can be used to describe three regions of the word (North, Central and South America), using it to describe your geographic origin sounds arrogant and can create confusion. Instead, refer to home as “U.S.” or “the States.”
Even if you are visiting rural areas during your high school volunteer abroad program, don’t refer to the area as “backward.” You will probably experience cultures that are very different from your own when you travel with GLA. However, just because a country is different, doesn’t mean it is “backward.” Referring to an area or people as “backward” implies that they have failed to progress and innovate.
This word may not be so much offensive as it is inaccurate. You don’t necessarily have to travel “over” an ocean in order to travel internationally. Give yourself grammatical credibility and use “abroad” instead.
When you refer to someone from another region or culture, never refer to them as “foreign” or a “foreigner.” The term implies that someone or something is out of place or strange. You probably would prefer not to be called a “foreigner” when visiting another culture, so apply the golden rule and refrain from using it to describe the people you meet internationally.
Now that you have a “do not say” list, note these other travel tips to keep international communication clear.
Keep your voice down. Some cultures are offended by loud noises or talking.
Don’t smile all the time. Though being polite is certainly encouraged, smiling too much can flag you as a tourist and set you up for scams. It can also be viewed as propositioning in some countries.
Learn courtesy essentials. Get up to speed on “please,” “thank you” and other polite terminology to ensure that you leave a good impression.
The Best Ways To Keep A Journal While Volunteering Abroad
Your friends aren’t going to believe you when you tell them you hiked the base of a volcano, rode elephants through the rainforest and helped improve sanitation for a rural African community. They’re not going to believe you, which is why you need proof.
Before you embark on your GLA service learning adventure, prepare to document the amazingness with these four tips. In addition to backing up the mind-blowing tales you’ll have to tell, you’ll also create keepsakes to keep your adventures fresh.
Your friends want proof? Show them the pictures! You know you enjoy cyber stalking your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram friends when they post pics of their travels. Now you can be the stalkee when you share your trip highlights through photo journaling. As you venture through bazaars, mountains and local villages use these tips to create a top-notch photo journal:
- Make those clicks count. Before you capture a photo, make sure it’s something significant. That way, as you sort through your photos, it will be easier to choose the ones you want to share.
- Though your favorite photo apps give you lots of room to play, sometimes simple is better. Decide if the amazing landscapes in front of you really need filtering or if it would be better to share them in their raw form.
When you volunteer abroad, you’re bound to experience an array of emotions as you engage with people from other corners of the world. Document your thoughts and feelings each day with a Journal.
- Try journaling first thing in the morning. Jot down your thoughts as you approach the day. You can write about your itinerary – the sights, sounds and smells that you’re anticipating.
- Close the day with a journal entry. Write down what “really” happened. Was it what you expected? What did you see? Who did you meet?
Blogging is like a journal that you share. Keep a live blog to share trip highlights, or wait and make an “after-the-trip” entry when you get back. You’ll find that volunteering abroad offers valuable insights. As you learn and grow on your trip, think about what kind of wisdom and experiences to share with your online community.
- Blog “notable quotes” that you may hear from fellow travelers or the locals that you meet
- Make your blog posts easy to read. Don’t share everything. Just include the highlights.
Scrapbooking is a great way for you to get creative and highlight your favorite trip moments. You can peruse blogs and social networking for great tips to make a travel book to remember. Here are few tips to get you started:
- Play with fun layouts. Visit Pinterest to get great ideas to create a unique mashup of travel photos.
- Do a collage of day and night photos. Capture your favorite service trip locations during the day and again at night. Then feature the day-to-night contrast in your scrapbook.
- Use one picture to tell a significant story. Take your time to capture a great moment and then use an entire page of your scrapbook to highlight the picture and tell the story.