The links above are unrelated advertising....
Alternatives and doing it yourself (or with friends)
This is the positive up-beat section of this website.† First point,
The TG schools are not your own avenue for international travel and service!!
Feel better?† Good. :)† In addition to a number of well-known programs such as the Peace Corps there are any number of well structured programs around.† You should probably check out Volunteer International or† Working Abroad who try and help people like yourself who want to volunteer abroad.
In addition I want to show how you can raise the necessary funds, attend language classes, volunteer, travel on your own for the same amount of money/time that you have to devote to at TG school.† This section is particularly targeted to people who feel that they can't do an international travel period with the kind of structure offered by the TG schools.† A common sentiment is:
Don't the Tvind overseas volunteering programs seem to fill a gap in the market? If you want to go to a developing nation and have a real chance to use your own initiative to work with indigenous innovators, educators and campaigners then the you really have few options. If you're really resourceful you could travel to your country of choice, meet up with a local NGO and make yourself invaluable to them. Not everyone can do this.
Excuse my language, but this is complete bullshit!!† You can and Iíll show you how.† Iím going to use the example of a trip to Guatemala, both because of the recent implosion of the IICD-MI Guatemala trip and because it is one with which I am personally familiar.† However, the same basic system applies no matter where you want to go.
Step One Ė Determining the trip length
To make things interesting Iíve devised a hypothetical stay of ten months (four more than the TG schools) to Guatemala.† Iíve also prepared a spreadsheet that you can use yourself to change time and activities and estimate costs.† This trip includes
∑ 4 months of preparation in which you raise the money for the trip and read up on the culture and history of Guatemala;
∑ 3 months of intensive language study in Guatemala (5 hours a day one on one with an instructor);
∑ 5 months of volunteering in Guatemala; and
∑ 1 month of travel around Guatemala.
It covers the same 13 month time period as a TG program but puts you in Guatemala for 9 months rather than 6, provides valuable and intense language training and best of all puts you in charge.
Step Two Ė Determining the costs
The costs for this trip outlined below are rough estimates but you can use the spreadsheet I provide to figure out your own schedule and costs.† The estimates in terms of costs are fairly generous.† If you wanted to make a more comparable experience to a TG program you could drop down the cost down another one to two thousand dollars but this would involve very few luxury items, just eating beans, rice and tortilla and living in bare bone conditions.
* includes room and board
In this trip you would attend a Spanish language school (one I attended and really liked) called Educacion para Todos located in Quetzaltenango (Xela) in the highlands of Guatemala.† Itís in the center of the indigenous part of the country, somewhat off the beaten track and very affordable.† But there are lots of language schools in Guatemala (Antigua and Xela) although many tend to be more touristy and expensive.† The learning potential offered by these schools are amazing.† You spend five hours a day, one on one with a teacher and stay with a host family and it also only costs $120 a week.† An added side benefit is that you know that your money is going directly to people in Guatemala.
Another big advantage is that Educacion para Todos offers a Volunteer center to its students which can help you get a volunteer program up and going. At one time they even provided people the opportunity to study indigenous languages and live with families in highland villages† (Iím not sure if this is still the case).
During the course of 12 weeks of language study it would be relatively easy to find an interesting project upon which to work.† Remember the self-reliant ethic of the TG schools.† It's the same here.† Once you get comfortable in Guatemala you will find that there are many many many opportunities for someone who wants to volunteer.
As an added bonus this plan gives you a full seven weeks to travel around Guatemala (or the rest of Central America) and visit Mayan ruins, the beach, and explore village life off the beaten track.†
Step Three - Earning the Money
Great you say but I donít have $6500.† Yes but you can get it.† The spreadsheet also has ways of calculating you earnings form a job and your living expenses.
I'm not saying that working for four months at a job you dislike, spending as little money as possible and maybe even living with your parents is going to be fun but in the words of the TG, It will provide you with valuable life experience.† You can try to compress the time it takes by working multiple jobs.
Stick it out secure in the knowledge that you are working towards a goal and entertain yourself by reading up on your target country with books from the public library.† You can live cheaply and have fun. It just takes dedication and it is what you would be doing at a TG school anywayÖbut you don't have to fundraise.† :)
Or you can take the $3300 you were going to pay a TG school and head out today for an abridged four to six month trip.
Step Four Ė Preparing for the trip
†Going abroad (particularly if it is your first time) can be a daunting experience but donít let that stop you.† A good travel companion can be a big help, particularly if donít want to go alone.† Think about friends and acquaintances who might be interested and talk about itÖyouíd be surprised how many people would be into this.
In addition, get a copy of the Lonely Planet Guidebook for Guatemala (or whichever country you are going to).† Great resource for background information on visas, immunizations, how to travel cheaply, etc.† You can also check out the LP Guatemala page.
The Lonely Planet also has a newsgroup devoted to people traveling in Latin America (other groups for other regions are also there) and is a great source for getting opinions/advice from recent and current travelers.
Step Five - Heading Out
Hereís some final advice when you are about to leave for your trip.† Arriving in a foreign country can be intimidating.† Youíre tired after a long flight, you donít speak the language, and you are in unfamiliar surroundings.† My first priority is always getting away from the airport (and the hoard of taxi drivers, people trying to get you to stay in their hotel, etc.) as soon as possible.† The best way to do this is to be as familiar as possible with where you want to go.† Luckily the Internet is a great tool for getting information about places to stay, bus schedules.
For Guatemala I highly recommend that you leave Guatemala City as soon as possible.† Its big, dirty and intimidating for a new arrival.† Once you are in country for awhile and have a better command of Spanish you can return if you wish.† A good option is to take a shuttle to Antigua (about 45 minutes away).† There are lots of options but one suggestion is to check out the schedule at the following website.† Or if you want to head to Xela you can consult the bus schedule here.
In general, I recommend budgeting extra money for the first day that includes things like a taxi from the airport to the Xela bus station, or a reservation at a more expensive hotel your first night.† It will just help you get used to your new surroundings.† The last thing I want to do when I first arrive at a strange place is try and figure out the public transportation system with a huge backpack in order to save a few bucks.†
Last thingÖhave a blast!
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