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6 posts categorized "Life Abroad"

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.

Teaching Abroad on the Fourth of July

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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!

The Answer To That Post-Grad Question We All Dread

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Congrats, graduates! You’ve made it through four (or more) years of all-night cram sessions, coffee through an IV, sprinting across campus to get to class on time, and practically growing roots into your favorite seat at the library.

You’ve also created four years of unforgettable memories—late night pizza binges, student org shenanigans, and waking with your best friends every morning to trudge to the dining hall. It’s an emotional time for you; a surreal mixture of nostalgia and relief.

While commencement might have you thinking you’re off the hook, you should be warned--you’re about to face a firing squad of family and friends who are guaranteed to ask the dreaded post-grad question: So what’s next?

Don’t panic. It’s okay not to know! And everyone knows that it’s okay not to know because let’s face it, they probably didn’t know either.

Whether you respond with a blank stare or a PowerPoint presentation outlining your exact career trajectory, my advice to this year’s college graduates is the same: Teach abroad after college.

Here are the five reasons why:

  1. Teaching abroad is not discipline specific (i.e. you don’t have to have a degree in teaching). You will grow to a global citizen, learn a new language, and make lasting professional and personal connections overseas. This kind of experience is invaluable in any field.
  1. Employers love international experience. Chances are your next potential employer will be super excited about your international experience as it is proven to increase innovation in the workplace. In fact, the biggest-ever survey on the subject indicates that employers statistically favor applicants with international experience. Knowing a foreign language is an added bonus!
  1. We need it now more than ever. Today’s political climate and rapidly globalizing world demands a higher degree of global consciousness. We are depending on your generation to foster cross-cultural understanding and strong working relationships.
  1. Travel! As cliché as it may sound, you only live once. You are also only a twenty-something college graduate once. Teaching abroad offers a chance to travel to places beyond your imagination at a much cheaper cost.


  1. The gap you year never had—and needed to take. Many of today’s youth start college before they are ready and often struggle in deciding a major as a consequence. A year abroad gives you the chance to really think about what you want to do with your new degree. There is no better way to discover what your passionate for than to take a step away from the “real world.”

Whether you are entering a post-grad abyss or have your entire life mapped out, there is no better time than now to teach abroad. You will be amazed with what a year in a magical country like Thailand, Spain, or Senegal can do for you, both personally and professionally.

So what are you waiting for? Take the leap! But first savor the huge accomplishment of your graduation. A well-deserved congratulations to you, Class of 2017!

China From The Inside: Chongqing and Shanghai

Today, we’re talking China. No, not the Kung Fu pandas, silky kimonos, or chopstick connoisseurs that are often stereotyped in Hollywood films. We’re talking real life in two of the country’s most thriving cities: Chongqing and Shanghai.

CHONGQINGChongqingFrom left to right: Chongqing skyline; Traditional hot pot dinner; Cable car across the Tangtze River

Chongqing is one of five municipal cities in China and definitely earns its name as the “city of the mountain.” Nestled between the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and plains stretching from the Yangtze River, the city is a striking mix of commanding hills, rolling rivers and city jungles.   

Beyond its ever-developing landscape, Chongqing is known for being “hot” in two big ways: hot weather and hot pot, a spicy Chongqing cuisine that is more of a lifestyle than a meal. If you really want to blend in with the locals, you’ll partake in a meal of piping hot pot on a 100 degree day—don’t forget the ice cold beer.

Anyone versed in the micro-culture of this city will recommend a stroll down to Jiefangbei, the city center of Chongqing. Come here to enjoy a modern, urban atmosphere, take a cable car across the Yangtze, or enjoy a steaming bowl of hot pot—not only a cuisine, but a way of life in the city of Chongqing.


ShanghaiFrom left to right: Shanghai skyscrapers; The Bund; English teachers enjoy the Chinese Lantern Festival  

Shanghai is China’s largest city and is also characterized by a unique urban layout. The Bund, a famous waterfront promenade, snakes along the west bank of the Huangpu River, which divides the city in two. While the Bund is scattered with hundreds of traditional, European-style buildings, the opposite bank boasts a sizable spread of skyscrapers--a striking visual juxtaposition.

In Zhujiajiao, one of Shanghai’s suburbs, you might forget that these skyscrapers exist at all. Locals in this traditional water town live as their ancestors did three hundred years ago. Take a cruise down the river bank to get a glimpse into this preserved way of life.

Of course, Shanghai cannot be discussed without mention of the famous Lantern Festival. On the 15th day of the Chinese New Year, thousands of vibrant, illuminated, and often enormous lanterns float around the city for both locals and tourists to enjoy. During the festival, you might sink your teeth into a xiaolongbao, or steamed bun. This famous Shanghainese dish comes with a warning: the soup inside the dumpling is very hot (yes, inside the dumpling…good luck figuring out how they get it in there!).  

Whether you are navigating the streets of Jiefangbei or strolling along the Bund, you can rest assured that there will be a remarkable view or a dish to tempt your taste buds at every turn. Take your time, savor the soup, and appreciate the people and culture of a classic Chinese city.

Any China tips to add? Let us know in the comments!

Living Abroad: Avoiding the Midway Burnout

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CIEE Teach Abroad Morocco

Living abroad is like being in a long-term relationship— everything seems wonderful to start, you have endless energy, and you only want to spend time with them. Everything about your life is like an over-exposed, saturated Instagram filter. Yet, as time passes, you grow impatient, tired of the same, and increasingly more frustrated by little inconveniences.

Contrary to what your Facebook may show to the public, living abroad long-term isn't all parties and scenic lookouts. It's really challenging, especially if you are working. Yet, unlike your last relationship, your time teaching abroad doesn’t have to end in heartache. In a series of three articles, we’ll teach you how to stay afloat during your time abroad. Our first post in this series we’ll show you how to avoid getting tired of living abroad, or what we call "the midway burnout." 

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