Bringing awareness to the benefits of service travel

Volunteering

Volunteer with Elephants at Thailand’s Elephant Nature Park

Resident Elephant at Elephant Nature Park

Image source: Phototracs.com

Elephants are some of the world’s most majestic creatures. They’re the largest living land animals on Earth. Known for their memory and intelligence, Elephants are a symbol of wisdom in Asian cultures. When I was a girl living in Kenya, I spent long days by the game preserve’s salt lick, watching the elephants interacting with each other and caring for their young. Once, three hyenas tried to attack one of the babies and the adults surrounded her in a giant circle, trumpeting their furious sounds and rearing up, thrashing their massive tusks in the air. The hyenas skulked back into the underbrush. The baby was safe. Elephants migrate over huge distances, through deserts, to find watering holes. The matriarchs teach the younger females how to find the water, where to find food, how far to march… elephants are some of the only animals besides humans that have culture. They have history. They have communities. They have no natural predators and yet, elephants all over the world are facing possible extinction.

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Cultural Integration with Volunteers in Asia

A Group of Japanese Exchange Students

Image source: Viaprograms.wordpress.com

The history of the relationship between Asia and North America is impossibly complicated and rife with ideological conflict. With the fastest growing economy in the world, China is a major global superpower and yet, the perception of America in China isn’t what it could be. I recently heard a fantastic piece on This American Life called “Americans in China.” It explored the complex relationship between American ex-pats and their Chinese neighbors. How Chinese can an American become? What products and emblems affect our cultural perceptions (Anime, G.I. Joe, Hello Kitty, MacDonalds, etc.)? What barriers are there between the two cultures? How is the American democracy perceived by Chinese citizens? Clearly, these two cultures are going to become more and more intertwined as each relies more heavily on the other. All of Asia is part of this globalizing equation—the tightening of our ties and the cultural interplay that must inevitably follow.

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Volunteer Expeditions: Travel Inspired, Return Empowered

Volunteer Expeditions Building a House

Image source: Causes.com

Volunteer Expeditions strives to gain an understanding about the rights and needs of those in poverty, the dignity of life and the necessity to reach beyond ourselves in giving.

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GoEco: Volunteering for Ecological and Humanitarian Projects

GoEco Volunteering in the Desert

Image source: Goeco.org

Ecological concern is almost a prerequisite for existing in the world in 2012. Everywhere we look we see environmental disasters—irresponsible manufacturing, drilling, fracking, and dumping—that are imperiling our precious and delicate world every single day. It feels like an insurmountable obstacle when all of the things we use every day—the cars we all drive, the energy that fuels our homes, airplane fuel, the products we buy—all contribute to our landfills, to polluting our oceans, and to damaging the delicate balance of our climate. I was talking to my younger sister about this the other day and she said, “what can one person really do?” It was such a sad statement coming from an idealistic, smart, and savvy young woman. One person can do a tremendous amount of good: in small ways and in large ones. But we’re not a nation of individuals. We are a team. What we really need is to unify our people towards a common goal—saving the planet and her people.

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Teach, Work, Intern, and Volunteer with Cultural Embrace

Internship in China

Image source: Culturalembrace.com

Cultural diversity is a phrase that could be used to describe an increasing swath of our world. Here in the U.S., the melting pot is constantly growing, as immigrants move here and have children, establishing communities across the country. Despite the immigration reformers in government, America has always been a place where people of all sorts can live side by side. This is one of the things I love the most about this country. But, while living surrounded by people of many different cultures is wonderful, it is no substitute for traveling to foreign countries, to experience other cultures in the places where they originated. We all become Americanized living here—we adapt, learn to cater to our environments, and, of necessity, leave a little bit of ourselves behind. We have an incredibly high standard of living in America. Even the poorest among us have access to goods and services that would be completely unavailable in much of the rest of the world. To truly learn about other cultures—to embrace the uniqueness, the authenticity—requires travel. It requires time spent in far off places meeting new people. It requires immersion without access to the comforts of home.

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