Ever thought about living in another country and immersing yourself in an entirely new culture? i-to-i provides meaningful volunteer travel programs and is an excellent way for eager travelers to explore the world. “I’ve always thought that education is one of the most important facets of society, and teaching abroad gave me hands-on experience of the benefits and hardships of sharing and exchanging knowledge between cultures,” declares Kaylen Fredrickson, who taught English at rural schools in Costa Rica for three months as a volunteer of i-to-i;. i-to-i travel is an award-winning organization providing unique work and overseas travel experiences for those wanting to make a difference in their life and the lives of others.
In the last 12 months, i-to-i has also raised $130, 000 for projects around the world and sent 190 people from 8 countries to Sri Lanka to help with Tsunami relief efforts. In the same time period, i-to-i has helped 4,000 people to volunteer in 27 countries and trained 10,000 people how to teach English as a foreign language. There are many great agencies that arrange international volunteer programs, but i-to-i is said to be the most appealing, helpful, and comprehensive to those with interests in teaching abroad.
With an abundance of opportunities, i-to-i makes it hard to choose a specific program. However, for volunteer Andrew Jacob who taught English in Beijing, choosing the TEFL program seemed like the clear choice. As he explains, “I wanted to go to China and do something worthwhile; teaching was pretty much the only option for a foreigner who did not speak Chinese.” For Kaylen Fredrickson, deciding to choose the Teaching English program was also an easy choice, “I’ve always loved the school environment and working with children. I felt that with the teaching option I would be making a noticeable difference.”
Aside from language barriers and the natural apprehensions that come with traveling to a foreign environment, immersing oneself in a non-English speaking culture is an extremely challenging endeavor. Teaching English in the city of Beijing with such drastic language barriers was frustrating at times for Andrew Jacob, though not the hardest adjustment, as he studied Chinese fairly intensively at the start of his program. As he claims, “The most challenging aspect in the end was the cultural barrier—my students came from very different backgrounds than myself, but more importantly, the way they thought and the beliefs they had were completely alien to me as an American.”
This feeling of alienation is similar to what Kaylen Fredrickson felt in rural Costa Rica, “The most challenging aspect of the rural setting was probably the isolation. The language barrier was another aspect that adds to the isolation. There are certain times where it doesn’t matter how hard both sides are trying, something is misunderstood.”
Despite her frustrations, Kaylen explains how such a challenge turned out to be extremely beneficial, “However, learning the language and communicating with people in Spanish was one of the best aspects of my trip. The ability to speak and understand Spanish made me feel like less of a traveler and more like part of the family. I think learning the local language is one of the most important things about traveling because it allows you to experience the culture in a more natural and uninhibited way.”
Standing up in front of a classroom of students in a foreign country with no prior teaching experience is an intimidating and often frightening feeling. For this reason, i-to-i provides intensive training programs prior to the first assistant teaching positions, though sometimes the preparation is not enough to mentally prepare the volunteer.