Posts Tagged ‘volunteering’

Volunteer Chronicles: Expectations
Monday, December 20th, 2010

Prologue: We found volunteering seems to be a common part of career breaker’s itineraries, and through our Meet, Plan, Go! events we learned that you want to learn even more about it! You asked – we deliver.

Welcome to a new feature on Briefcase to Backpack, the “Volunteer Chronicles”, where we’ll follow Sherry Ott’s two month volunteering trip through the Middle East. We are starting you at square one and you’ll get diary-type updates to know what it’s really like from the moment you pick a program to the moment you arrive home. Sherry’s volunteering with one of our recommended volunteer organizations, GeoVisions, which offers unique opportunities to volunteer around the world and make a difference.


Volunteer ChroniclesI arrive in Amman Jordan on January 4th, and I can’t help but wonder what to expect. I wish I could say that I was fully prepared for what lie ahead of me – but I’m far from it! I am in that panic mode that happens before any big trip; trying to figure out what to pack. During this pre-departure time we tend to be full of expectations and excitement, it can be a fun time and a stressful time; even for a seasoned traveler and volunteer like myself.

I am reminded of how powerful expectations are when you volunteer or simply travel deeply into a culture. During this part of the volunteering process, I have been reminded of ‘expectations’ frequently and have already had to reset them a number of times

After filling out my detailed family application next I had to wait. And wait, and wait. In fact, that has been the most frustrating part of the process so far; waiting to hear about my volunteer family assignments. It was only frustrating because one – I was anxious to learn more about where I would be living for a month, and two – because I couldn’t really make my flight arrangements until I had my family assignment. I had hoped that I would receive the assignments sooner, but the process takes time.


Photo Friday: The Passport School
Friday, November 19th, 2010


This Photo Friday spotlights The Passport School in Cambodia, which was built with funds raised from last years Passports with Purpose fundraiser.

“I really can’t look at these photos without getting a bit choked up. And I’m not one to get choked up often.

But think about it. There are kids in this very rural area in Northern Cambodia that now have a place to learn because of a fundraiser that managed to harness the power, interest and heartstrings of a group of travelers.

$10 at a time, we raised $30,000 in 2009. And have influenced the future of a generation of children as a result.”

– Beth Whitman, Co-Founder – Passports with Purpose

We are thrilled to be joining Passports with Purpose this year to help raise $50,000 to build a village in India! You can read more about our contribution to the effort and how you can participate as well. It’s amazing what can happen when a community comes together.

Want to see your photo here? Join our Facebook Fan Page and upload your career break photo onto our Wall. Add a brief description & we may choose to feature it here!

Help Build a Village in India
Monday, November 15th, 2010

Last year we wrote about one of our favorite websites – Passports with Purpose – which once a year brings together the travel blogging community to help raise funds for a special cause. Last year they raised $30,000 to help build a school in Cambodia (well above their goal of $13,000).

According to PwP co-founder, Beth Whitman, “The school is a humble building north of Siem Reap, close to the Thai border. Though simple as it is, it has tremendous meaning to the children who have an opportunity to learn there.”

Passports with Purpose India

We are proud to join Passports with Purpose this year in their goal to raise $50,000 to build an entire village in South India with Land for Tillers’ Freedom (LAFTI). The village is for the Dalits, India’s most neglected class of citizens.

The Lafti GroupTHE VILLAGE

For more than 50 years, LAFTI’s founders – Krishnammal Jagannathan and S. Jagannathan – have been committed to helping Dalits (India’s untouchables), especially women, with projects that include land distribution, cultivation, adult training, youth housing and housing construction. For less than $2,000, LAFTI can build a home, for which the land title is given to the woman of the household. Passports with Purpose aims to raise enough money to build approximately 25 homes to create the Passports Village in Karunganni, located in the state of Tamil Nadu.


In order to raise funds, dozens of travel bloggers have donated some incredible prizes – including us! For every $10 you donate, you will be entered into a drawing for the prize of your choice. So, for example, if you donate $30, you can chose to enter once for 3 prizes or 3 times for the same prize.

Visit the donation page for a complete list of prizes:

Some key dates to keep in mind:

  • Entries Open: November 15, 2010
  • Entries Close: December 13, 2010 at 11:59pm PST
  • Prize Winners Announced: December 17, 2010


Career Break Boot CampWe are thrilled to announce that we will be donating one membership to our Inaugural Meet, Plan, Go! Career Break Boot Camp (course begins January 9, 2011 and runs for 8-weeks).

What exactly do you need to make your travel and career break dreams come true? With Meet, Plan, Go! Career Break Boot Camp, it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3…and we’ve packed it all: 1. Inspiration, 2. Structure, and 3. Community

This online course and social learning platform is where people with the dreams of taking a career break or sabbatical to do extended travel can come together in a community learning environment. Designed by certified travel coach Tara Russell and career break travel gurus Michaela Potter and Sherry Ott, the course will provide you with inspiration, structure, community, resources, tools and motivation.

Learn more about the Boot Camp here.

Here are a few words from members of our Beta Boot Camp:

[Boot Camp has] exceeded my expectations! My mind has been opened to different opportunities that exist for travel and incorporating work and travel.

Your insights and experiences are invaluable and I cannot thank you enough for sharing them via the Boot Camp. Your passion is contagious and your encouragement is much appreciated, especially when the travel break mentality is not always mainstream in my daily world! I will be recommending the course to many friends.

Fantastic job – I can’t tell you how impressed I am that this is the first time you all have done something like this – everything about this site/course/your instruction and guidance leads me to believe I am not in a beta group, but working with a group that has done this a million times…and does it the right way. Kudos, and thank you so much for all of your time and efforts!

The Community has been a wonderful way to hear from similar minded travelers, the workbook & journaling have been extremely helpful in getting my thoughts out and seeing what new ideas form. Hands down though, the insights that each of you have shared from your experiences and the encouragement you’ve offered have been my favorite part of the course.

Thanks to the amazing sponsors of Passports with Purpose: BootsnAll, LiveMocha, Round the World with Us, HomeAway, Traveller’s Point, Hostelling International, Quintess, Raveable, TravelPost, and Uptake.

Photo Friday: Volunteering in Peru
Friday, November 5th, 2010



This week we focused on preparing for your volunteer experience abroad. But have you thought about how that volunteer experience can carry with you after your career break? Cindy Peterson knows, and this Photo Friday showcases her time volunteering with Peru’s Challenge with her husband Bill.

“My husband Bill and I volunteered with Peru’s Challenge thanks to a recommendation from Michaela at Briefcase to Backpack. We had done several volunteer assignments during our 14 month career break, but Peru’s Challenge has a special place in our hearts for their superb efforts working to empower underprivileged communities in Peru. In fact, I was so moved by their efforts that I still work with Peru’s Challenge as their volunteer coordinator for the US and Europe, helping to interview and place volunteers in the program.

It is a great way to stay involved with a program like this even though we’ve returned to ‘real life’, and continue to meet and talk to people excited to travel and volunteer. The #1 reason that people I talk to everyday choose volunteer travel? – to immerse themselves in day to day life and culture in another country, instead of just traveling as a tourist.”

How has a volunteer experience abroad followed you home?

Want to see your photo here? Join our Facebook Fan Page and upload your career break photo onto our Wall. Add a brief description & we may choose to feature it here!

Volunteer Chronicles: Applying
Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

Prologue: We found volunteering seems to be a common part of career breaker’s itineraries, and through our Meet, Plan, Go! events we learned that you want to learn even more about it! You asked – we deliver.

Welcome to a new feature on Briefcase to Backpack, the “Volunteer Chronicles”, where we’ll follow Sherry Ott’s two month volunteering trip through the Middle East. We are starting you at square one and you’ll get diary-type updates to know what it’s really like from the moment you pick a program to the moment you arrive home. Sherry’s volunteering with one of our recommended volunteer organizations, GeoVisions, which offers unique opportunities to volunteer around the world and make a difference.

And in the beginning…there were forms…

[singlepic=1905,250,,,right]From the moment I came across GeoVision’s Conversation Programs I was intrigued. I loved the idea of living with a local family while tutoring them, or a local municipality in conversational English. It seemed like the perfect way to have cultural interaction and exchange.

I’m not a novice to volunteering. I’ve done if before with varying degrees of support – from very high end ‘hold your hand’ programs to local budget ‘you’re on your own’ programs). After reading through the GeoVisions website, I felt it was really positioned in between – that middle ground that seemed economical (especially if you could stay for longer periods), and one that provided a great structure and support if you needed it.

I had done some follow up research on GeoVisions and talked to a few people there via email and Skype in order to get some of my organizational questions answered. After that, I was sure that I wanted to go with GeoVisions for my next volunteering project.


Preparing to Leave as an International Volunteer
Monday, November 1st, 2010

International volunteering is something many career breakers are interested in doing. And we are no strangers to the experience! Between the two of us (Michaela and Sherry), we have volunteered abroad in Peru, Thailand, Nepal and India. And we’ve discussed how to choose the right volunteer program for you. Now that you have – how do you actually prepare for the experience? Jane Stanfield, of Where Is She Heading, shares some advice with us.

Phase one is complete. You have decided which volunteer project will benefit from your enthusiasm, expertise, and time. Congratulations!  Take a short breather because you are about to enter phase two – preparing to leave.

[singlepic=1901,300,,,right]TELL ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE what you will do, where it is, and when it will happen. Help them imagine it by giving them glorious details of what you will see, hear, taste, and smell. Describe what it will be like to do the work and how wonderful you will feel upon completion. This is done, of course, in a non-smug way because your intention is not to instill envy, but gain enthusiasm for your volunteer work.

CREATE YOUR TO DO LIST of everything that needs to be accomplished, not only before you leave, but also while you are abroad. Decide how you want your affairs handled.  Immediate family can do many of the items if you are only gone for a month. If you will be gone for an extended period however, you may need a team of people to keep your home life rolling while you are away.  As this topic is covered in detail through the Briefcase to Backpack program, I suggest a preliminary list of topics to be considered:

  • Job
  • Legal issues
  • Bills
  • Insurance
  • Mail
  • Home – Possessions, Pets and Plants
  • Car
  • Special Events
  • Commitments to others.

Brainstorm other issues specific to you and your trip with your family.


ESL Certification: Teach Around The World
Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

This week Alisha Robertson told us her tips on how to incorporate teaching ESL into your career break travels. She mentioned that she actually got certified to teach ESL while she was still living in America; but what does that certification entail and is it really necessary?

[singlepic=1863,275,,,right]First of all, certification normally comes in a couple different forms – CELTA (Certificate for English Language Teaching to Adults) is the most known and recognized. It’s a certification offered by Cambridge University and known throughout the world. Most places require that you have a certificate in order to teach at an English Language school. Keep in mind that certification is not necessary for volunteering, however it does help your effectiveness!

CELTA certification is the same all over the world. It consists of 4 weeks of learning content. It can usually be done in an intensive one month of classes or in night classes over the course of a number of months. It’s not a cake walk – there are homework assignments and instructors are grading & constantly critiquing you.


On the Road: Volunteer Farmstays
Monday, April 12th, 2010

After Charles Forsyth received an “offer” to take a voluntary separation from his employer (where he had worked since graduating college) his fiancé, Heather Molnar, decided to take the leap and quit her job. And the idea to take a “year off” to travel was born.

[singlepic=1752,300,,,right]In September of 2009 their adventure began and they decided that they would spend the year volunteering on organic farms in exchange for room and board. They share with us what the experience has been like and how they will incorporate lessons learned into their lives.

What made you decide to spend your travels volunteering and staying on organic farms and homestays?
Budget was definitely a factor in the beginning, but more so we were newly interested in learning more about sustainable living, gardening, farming and living a simpler lifestyle. By living on farms and in eco-hostels in Central America we not only honed gardening skills we learned to live with fewer material choices — such as supermarkets loaded with snacks and convenience foods.

What have been some highlights from your volunteer experience?
We loved living with and spending time with the children on our first homestay in Nicaragua. Without even knowing they were doing it, they helped us learn Spanish and introduced us to their way of life — work hard and play hard (daily games of family baseball and soccer in the barnyard that is).

We also very much enjoyed our month at an eco-lodge in Nicaragua where we lived with no electricity or indoor plumbing. This was easier than you might think when the company is good.

Finally, when else would we have been able to bottle-feed baby howler monkeys, and take an anteater for a daily walk on her leash [in Costa Rica]? Every place we’ve been has given us a new and enjoyable experience — though there were some “downsides” at times, we’ve always been able to take away a positive experience.

[singlepic=1757,260,,,left] [singlepic=1753,260,,,left]


Career Breaks that Give Back
Monday, April 5th, 2010

Carolyn Lane is the founder of the non-profit organization Dog Meets World and she’s changing people’s lives one picture at a time. Armed with tools, a little stuffed dog and a portable printer, her Phodographers travel around the world providing kids and parents photos of themselves. A rare treat in these people’s lives.


We typically talk about career breaks as pausing your career to travel and volunteer and participate in activities that interest you. Carolyn is not the typical career breaker, but she has taken these three important elements of a traditional career break and put them together in a groundbreaking idea to make the world a better place. She left her stable career behind to pursue creating a volunteer opportunity around travel.

I had the opportunity to speak with Carolyn about her efforts to bring photography to all corners of the world.

[singlepic=1743,275,,,left]You decided to take a very unusual career break in order to travel and give back. Can you tell us what you did prior to your career break? My eclectic career has spanned from being a research scientist to most recently the Director of Discovery Montessori School.

How did you decide to take the career break leap and pursue your goal?
I returned after 12 years to again head the nonprofit Montessori school which I had co-founded in 1990 and guide it through a growth period. I indicated to the board that I would not be the next long term director but would prepare the school for the future, so I already had an inkling of wanting to do/create something else as part of my life’s work. So after 3 years as the head administrator I resigned to make space to create what would become the Dog Meets World project, which at the time was just a collection of loose ideas.


Peru Needs Our Help
Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

[singlepic=1681,250,,,right]With the devastating earthquake that recently hit Haiti, a great deal of attention and fundraising for recovery efforts has been placed there. However, there is another natural disaster that is affecting thousands of families. Heavy rains and extreme flooding have devastated many parts of Peru. In 2006, I had the opportunity to volunteer with Peru’s Challenge, an organization that works very closely with these communities.

Below is a recent email I received from Peru’s Challenge asking for urgent help. Whether you’ve already visited Peru or have it on your “bucket list”, I ask that you take a moment and see if you are willing to help the people of these communities.

[singlepic=1686,250,,,left]The people of Peru need your help.

If you’ve seen the news, you know that heavy rains and flooding have devastated Peru in the past few weeks. But while much of the international news coverage has focused on the closure of Machu Picchu, behind the scenes thousands of local Peruvians have lost their homes, and millions of acres of crops have been destroyed.

The communities that Peru’s Challenge works with have been hard hit too. Of the four communities in which we currently work, three are experiencing severe damage. Last week rain washed away an important access bridge between Pumamarca and Quilla Huata. Only 10 of more than 200 houses in Quilla Huata have been spared from flash flooding which has destroyed house foundations, meaning most will crumble and have to be rebuilt from scratch. I’ve just received word that flooding has claimed the whole school we built in the Huandar community in the Sacred Valley and all their cropping areas – their only livelihood. Keep in mind that now, in the standard rainy season (from November to March), is usually peak produce time for agricultural areas so all has been lost and cannot be recuperated until the rains fall again in late November this year.


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