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Why Pay to Volunteer?


We often get questions regarding why there is a program fee for Teach Abroad Volunteer programs when applicants are going to donate their time. If volunteers don’t get paid, why should they have to pay to participate?

This is certainly a valid question and while we would love if all programs could be free, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes that does carry a cost to make these programs possible. Plus, working with a program provider has its benefits!


Organizing volunteer opportunities costs money

Whether it’s a not-for-profit company, a non-governmental organization, or a charity - it costs money to organize and run different programs and volunteer opportunities locally and worldwide. Not only does organizing the entire volunteer project cost money, but so do you!

When you pay a fee to volunteer through a reputable program provider, you are paying for the confidence of protection against the unknown. Your fee helps to cover the operating costs needed to pay employees, engage local resources, provide transportation and more to ensure your volunteer experience goes off without a hitch.

While volunteering abroad, you’ll probably be part of an orientation or welcome event. Program fees often go towards these events, including hotel room rentals, meals, and transportation -- from the airport to the hotel, and then to your volunteer placement. Sometimes local families host volunteers during their stay and while some are paid, others often volunteer themselves in order to experience a firsthand cultural exchange. English language learning is a big part of volunteering abroad, and families regularly look to engage the native speakers any way they can -- whether it’s for their own personal practice or to expose their children to something new and educational. You’ll often see varying program fees depending on what costs will need to be covered during your time abroad.

Going through established companies that have a program fee to volunteer also bring the benefits of having in-country staff to turn to in case of emergency, international health coverage, and even pre-departure advice to help you prepare for your experience abroad.


Benefits of volunteering abroad with a program provider

Traveling to a new place and visiting for a few days or even a couple weeks doesn’t always give you the experience of really getting involved in a new community. You can explore neighborhoods, visit museums, and dine at local mom-and-pop restaurants -- but how much have you really experienced of the community around you?

By volunteering, for a week, a month, or a year, you give yourself the opportunity to really dive down to the nitty gritty. You not only get to give back, but you also get to learn about the community and culture, all the while developing meaningful relationships with the people you’re working with.

When you decide to pursue the adventure of volunteering abroad, you will also meet other people who have also felt the need to give back in a global way.

Instead of trying to convince your uninterested friends to volunteer with you, why not take on the adventure and meet others who have done the same? You’ll be grateful for having this shared experience with new friends who also wanted to experience something new while making a difference through their efforts.

While volunteering through an organization is not always the best option for everybody, it is definitely a great way to travel, experience new cultures, and know that you’ll be supported while giving back abroad. There are many opportunities around the world, it’s up to you to find the one that’s calling your name.

Meet Samantha Teacher!

Sam 1Meet Samantha, known for the past couple years as Samantha Teacher! Samantha is our Team Assistant and just got back from an amazing experience teaching abroad in South Korea. We sat down to talk about where this life changing decision to live and work abroad landed her along with all the other amazing aspects of South Korea and teach abroad communities. Check out what she had to say!

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First off, where are you from? And how did you get from there to South Korea?

I’m from Winona, Minnesota, a small town on the Mississippi River and the border of Wisconsin. I grew up there and went to college at Winona State. During this time, I studied abroad in Granada, Spain and you know what they say, I got bit by the travel bug! So the summer after I graduated, I got TEFL certified and a couple years later geared up to teach abroad. I met my husband, Kyle, in that time period and he quickly jumped on board to go live in South Korea. The original plan was to stay for one year, but we quickly realized that that was not nearly enough time! So we decided to sign on for two.

Where did you teach in South Korea? What was it like to work at your school?

PicMonkey CollageI taught in Impyeong Elementary School which was located in a small, rural town called Buksam in the province of Chilgok. Kyle and I along with one other English teacher from Texas were the only English speakers in our town. South Korea is so community-oriented and everyone made us feel so welcome despite the language barrier.

My school was made up of about 800 students, but I only taught grades three through six. I saw them all once a week for a combined 22 hours of teaching. I loved that everyone ate lunch together every day in the cafeteria, teachers and students side by side. The lunch ladies knew I wasn’t a big fan of fish, so they would save something on the side for me. They really looked out for me there and valued me as a teacher and coworker.

What was the funniest thing a student said to you?

Because I’m married, they always asked me: “Teacher, baby?” They were all so curious about me and wanted to know everything! They also always thought I was taking a picture when I was taking a video. Very cute!

What was the biggest challenge of teaching and living abroad?

The biggest challenge was probably the initial adjustment: the new language, new culture, new everything. You know it’s a temporary feeling but you can still feel frustrated by how long it might take to get your bearings and figure things out.

The biggest cultural adjustment was the more hierarchical social system that exists in South Korea. Depending on your age and job position, you have a set place in this structure. For example, there was a very formal relationship between the principal and teachers. When we left for break, we would all go into her office and bow before leaving. Even the kids recognize the distinction between age groups and the language is shaped around the relational statuses. It’s pretty confusing when you’re trying to learn Korean and figuring out all the intricacies of the relationships.

What was your favorite place to travel outside of South Korea?Sam taiwanBecause of the great teaching salaries in South Korea, I was able to travel a lot and still save up some money. We went to a lot of places both within the country and outside, but my favorite was probably Taiwan. We went with some friends who had been teaching in China, so they were able to communicate in Chinese with the locals. In addition to the usual tourist sites, we were able to navigate to local hole in the wall shops and restaurants. I felt like I really saw the local culture while I was there thanks to their language skills.

What was your favorite place in South Korea?

Honestly my favorite place was probably our little town. It was the best of both worlds—when we wanted to have a night out, we could go into the nearby city of Daegu (only 20 minutes away) and on a daily basis, we got to enjoy the incredible community right at home.

What makes the country special to you?

Sam communityFrom the students and coworkers, to Kyle’s hairdresser, to the other local expats, and everyone in between, we felt so welcomed in this community. The kids would spot me from a couple blocks away and would be so excited to see me! At the local coffee shop, the owner would bring us little cakes to thank us for being there. And we made great friends with Kyle’s Ultimate Frisbee team. Ultimately, it was the relationships that I formed that made South Korea so special to me. Their generosity and kindness broke any stereotypes people might have about the region. They really cared about us and were happy we were there.  

A Week In Portland With Your Teach Abroad Coordinators

This week we’ve had some of our in-country coordinators in good old Portland, Maine for the 2017 CIEE Teach Abroad summit! For the last few days, we’ve been getting down to the nitty gritty of all things Teach Abroad and discussing how we can better our programs for the amazing participants who make them happen.

China, Thailand, Spain, Chile and the Czech Republic are all in the CIEE house! While these people certainly know a lot about their respective countries, we were curious: how much do they know about Maine?! It was our goal this week to make them fall in love with the city that we call home here at the CIEE headquarters. Here’s what we showed them:

  1. 1. CIEE (of course!)

CIEELocated smack dab in the middle of Portland, CIEE is a little known treasure of Portland. We can’t tell you how many times pedestrians have peered in the large, glass windows and wondered “what’s in there?!” only to find out that it’s the home of the country’s oldest and largest nonprofit study abroad and intercultural exchange organization (that’s us!).

  1. 2. The Old Port

Walking tourThis quaint, cobblestoned, and historical part of Portland is affectionately referred to by locals as the Old Port. We took a walking tour of the city to discover its local businesses, fisherman charm, and small town flavor (aka delicious food and hearty spirits). This walkable city might have you feeling like you’ve gone back in time!

  1. 3. Food

IMG_20170710_130447370Portland didn’t earn its “foodiest small town in America” title for nothing! Between the fresh caught seafood, authentic foreign cuisine, and local microbreweries, Portland will have your mouth watering before you can “lobster trap!” Here are the food stops we made this week: Slab Sicilian Street Food, Salvage BBQ, Petite Jaqueline, Standard Baking Co., RiRa Irish Pub, Rosemont Market, Flatbread Company, Haraseeket Lunch and Lobster.

  1. 4. Fort Williams

Fort williamsThis old military fort has been turned into a State Park and is home to the most photographed lighthouse in the world, to Portland Head Light—who knew?! This spot is perfect for picnic-ers, runners and bikers, kite flyers, and concert go-ers alike, especially those who want to get in on the stunning panorama view of Casco Bay. We stopped here for an ocean side feast!

  1. 5. The Eastern Prom

Eastern promSpeaking of views…the Eastern Prom has one of the best! Casco Bay Harbor served as the backdrop for the free, outdoor concert we saw on Thursday, put on for free by the city of Portland. The event also featured international food trucks...they must have known we were going to be there!

  1. 6. Lobster Boating

Lucky catchWhen in Maine, do as the locals do (psst if you couldn’t tell that means catching lobster—oh and eating it too!). We joined Lucky Catch Cruises for an unforgettable excursion on the waters of Casco Bay, pulling lines and hauling traps while surrounded by the beauty of our harbor and the best company.

  1. 7. Freeport, MaineFreeportThe bonus of living in Portland is that in addition to all the great stuff within the city, it’s well connected to so many other beautiful and boisterous towns! We’re wrapping up the 2017 Teach Abroad Summit in Freeport, about a 20 drive from Portland.  There, we will devour some last-minute seafood, hike around the picturesque Wolfe’s Neck Woods, and shop around the famous L.L. Bean flagship store. Pictures to come!

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While we were trying to make an impression on the international staff, we have to admit that Portland also made an impression on us! Between the ocean and land ventures, scrumptious food, and spending time with our incomparable colleagues, this week has made us realize just how great this city is and how lucky we are to live in it.

We’re sad to see our international staff leave, but so happy to have had the chance to share our little town with them. We love having our headquarters here (especially in the summertime!) and welcome anyone to visit us at our HQ if you are ever in town--if you can fit it into your busy schedule of sight seeing and food!

Safe travels home, friends.

Team at Eastern Prom


Teaching Abroad on the Fourth of July

48922_Study Abroad_St Petersburg_RU_St Petersburg_SA_Blog_20130722_Study Center_012

This week, the United States of America celebrated its 241st birthday. Yep, for 241 years we’ve been flying flags, setting off fireworks, and scarfing down hot dogs by the lake to celebrate the independence of our nation (well I don’t know how they did it at the beginning, but you get the idea). Like any holiday, those abroad probably celebrated a bit differently whether it was with a group of fellow Americans, with local friends, students, or host families. But just because Independence Day might have felt a little different doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten the traditions of celebrating the nation’s birth.

Something that exchange workers and teachers have probably realized at one point or another during their time abroad is that compared to the rest of them, the United States is a baby of a nation state—a mere 241 years old! I bet each and every one of you can tell me about a time you’ve stood before an ancient temple in Thailand or an archaeological site in Peru  or a thousand year old church in Italy and thought to yourself “holy moly, this place is old!” You might have also realized that the U.S. is a blip in time compared to countries that have existed as states for several millennia.

While most teachers will be coloring American flags this in the classroom around this time (hello easy peasy lesson on color names and culture!), it might be good to take a step back to think about what that flag means to you and the impressions of it that you would like to leave behind. You are as much a teacher as you are a global ambassador and for some of your students, you are their first impression of America! Think about how excited you are to learn about the Wai in Thailand, or the meaning of the color red in China, or the history behind Flamenco dancing in Spain. Your students feel the same way about your culture, so spread the wealth!  

Flag drawings

Teaching abroad is rewarding in so many ways (are you nodding with me here?). In addition to the obvious educational aspect, when you’re an ESL teacher abroad, you get to facilitate a rich exchange of language and culture. Teachers learn quickly that they are not only there to give classroom instruction, but as a liaison for their country. They also know that the huge responsibility that comes with that role can be both daunting and exciting! When in doubt, talk to other teachers. Ask how they might be presenting holidays or other cultural aspects or what they think of your lesson plans. Remember, we are all in this together as cultural representatives.

Ok, so no pressure here – let’s just take this one flight at a time. Start your lesson with a tune we all know this week, happy birthday to you, America!

When Teach Abroad Ends: saying goodbye to students, friends, and country

I remember it like it was yesterday: 12:30 am, standing under the dull, yellow glow of the light from Hotel de Ville, my face buried into the collar of my friend’s jacket as he hugged me goodbye. Fifty or more study abroad cohorts milled around us, taking photos, sipping wine, and laughing about that one time when so-and-so did such-and-such. We were leaving for the airport in a mere four hours, but no one gave a second thought to sleep.

Two years later, I stood underneath a different glow, saying goodbye to different people, but feeling exactly the same way. Sunshine flooded the city square of Hyeres as I stood on the curb, swaying under the weight of my enormous backpack. I avoided eye contact with my friends to keep from crying and cracked halfhearted jokes to distract everyone from the fact that life as we knew it was coming to an abrupt end.

I didn’t even believe myself when the word “goodbye” came out of my mouth. How could I be leaving when just eight months before I was taking that first bus ride into my new town and wondering where in the world I was? Like it was yesterday, I was searching for an apartment, opening a bank account, and scraping by with my digressed French vocabulary. I mean, really, I had just unofficially certified myself as a semi-functional adult with a job, a lease, and actual speaking abilities—and now I had to leave?!

18901564_10213024323265656_1883512795_oMy little village

It did not compute that I was going back to the land where everything was easy. Where I didn’t have to think before speaking (well, kind of) or wonder if I had just used the right greeting (bonjour…err I mean bon journee..bonsoir? I don’t know man!), or worry about getting anything necessary to sustain human life on Saturday since everyone and everything ceases to exist on Sunday in France. Where I didn’t have to walk a quarter mile to do laundry or have to take public transportation. The land where I was 100% comfortable.

At this point, I was not only accustomed to cultural challenges, I had grown to enjoy them. Speaking French was now like walking on a tightrope only now I rarely fell off. I welcomed small talk in the grocery store when at the beginning I thought I’d be paralyzed by slow processing skills. They knew my signature order—and my name!—at my favorite café. And I finally knew how to effectively tell my students to shut up in French (huge breakthrough)!

Without even realizing it, I had built a life here—the whole shebang! By all means of the word, I was a local. I knew my town inside and out. I had my own apartment and was friends with my landlord. I had a regular running route and knew exactly which stuffy public bus line to take to get to the best beaches. I was actually territorial about the castle on the hill that I had discovered on one of my first days to the point where I would roll my eyes about the “tourists.” I knew exactly where to get the best cheese, wine, olives, dried tomatoes, cheese…ok this list could go on awhile. And, of course, I had a social group made up of some of the best people I’ve ever known from French, Spanish, British, Colombian, Italian, Germany—a lot of flags and a lot of personality.  

15826515_10211576820118982_1246049634795554837_nAdopted-family holiday party

Anyone who’s studied abroad knows how hard it is to say goodbye to these people and places. Anyone who’s taught abroad knows that after even more time, it’s harder. Study abroad invited you into the world of goose-bump traveling, humbling cultural exchange, and unparalleled peer bonding. Teach abroad landed you a permanent seat at the table.

By the time that eight or nine month mark rolls around, you’ve not only re-entered this world, but have become entrenched in it. Your language skills are sharp, your cultural competence is at an all-time high, and you are more confident in yourself than ever. Anything that you once thought to be impossible, you’ve conquered. You are that world citizen that you set out to be.

Realizing all this and the person you’ve become, there is no wonder that the end of teach abroad is one of the most emotional times of your life. My biggest piece of advice is to let these emotions wash right over you and don’t be afraid to get a little sappy. Indulge with all your favorite foods, take the long way to school on your last day, look out into the dreamy distance from the highest point in your city, and cry when you say goodbye to your friends and students. These the moments you’ll remember most, so fill them with color and saturate them with emotion.

18901915_10213024324025675_102830689_oThat unforgettable view

Leaving your city will inevitably feel a bit like mourning. But there are a few things to remember when you feel like it’s just getting to be too much:

  1. You have endless amounts of photos, videos, and memories to look back on and smile about.
  2. You now have friends around the world—dozens more excuses travel!
  3. You left a permanent impression on your students and coworkers.
  4. You’re walking away with new confidence, competence, and charisma.
  5. And most importantly: you’ll be back.

Congratulations to all our teachers past and present for your hard work in the classroom and for getting through those tough good byes. You all deserve a huge round of applause—and some peanut butter because I know how much you missed it.

Bye for now!

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