Global Exploration for Educators Organization (GEEO)
NOTE: We've got a new article featuring exciting developments at GEEO, partnerships, and the 2011 summer trip schedule. Please check it out here.
We've got such an exciting international education opportunity to share with you today! Global Exploration for Educators Organization (GEEO) is an incredible non-profit organization that provides opportunities for educators to travel overseas, learn from these intercultural trips, and share their experiences with their students, after they get home. Truly, this is one of the best international education opportunities for educators that I've ever seen. It is an all-encompassing program, from pre-trip support to assistance with integrating these international experiences into their teaching curriculum. BRAVO, GEEO! Jesse Weisz founded GEEO to share his passion for traveling with America's teachers. Jesse discovered the wonders of travel during high school when he made two trips to Europe as a member of the US National Ultimate Frisbee team. Later Jesse studied abroad in Sydney and landed a three month all expenses paid trip to Asia to shoot stills and video for an Australian adventure company. From there, Jesse was hooked on travel and has visited over 50 countries.
Jesse worked as the Director of Fund Raising for the Global Advancement Foundation, a non profit organization. He was most active on the GAFs project World Flight 2000, an around the world flight to raise children's awareness about geography. Since 2003, Jesse has managed his own new business development consulting company for European advertising agencies in 14 different countries. Jesse still consults part time to pay the bills.
We were lucky enough to sit down and talk with Jesse about GEEO, intercultural education, giving back, and more. Here's what he - and several teachers - had to say...
WE: Please tell us about Global Exploration for Educators Organization (GEEO)...
JW: Global Exploration for Educators Organization (GEEO) is a 501c3 non-profit organization that was founded in April of 2007 to help and encourage educators to travel abroad.
We sponsor travel programs over the summer and winter vacations that are designed specifically for educators. The trips are really inexpensive, as we negotiate the best rates with local tour companies. We also help educators find grants to subsidize their trips with us.
Educators earn graduate and/or professional development credit while on our tours. Participants experience once in a lifetime cultural interactions, school visits and other wonderful adventures beyond our borders. These educators then bring this experience into their classrooms through GEEO's education program.
Over the past two years, 89 educators have traveled abroad through our programs to Peru, India and Tunisia.
WE: What was the impetus to start GEEO?
JW: I founded GEEO (along with several friends who formed our initial board of directors) because understanding the world today has never been more important to America's future. Travel in the developing world was the catalyst that got me interested in American politics, geopolitics, and environmentalism. Travel experiences made the world "real" to me and in turn made me care about my impact on it. I feel that if Americans had similar experiences, we would by default become a more outward looking, benevolent country. Unfortunately, most Americans lack the means, time or desire to travel abroad, aside from vacations to beach resorts or Western Europe.
Teachers have the time, and if done inexpensively, the means to travel. With incentives designed specifically for teachers (Grad Credit, school visits, etc) they are more likely to have the desire. More importantly, teachers have the opportunity to reach at least 100 students a year, on average. Over the course of their careers, they can reach over 3,000 students. A trip taken by one teacher has the potential to impact many young minds. If enough teachers travel, I think we can actually change American culture. That is why I started GEEO, to create a national movement of “wandering educators.” Long term, our goal is to make travel something educators see as both their privilege and responsibility.
WE: Who participates on GEEO trips?
JW: We try to be as inclusive as possible. Our program is open to any educator, regardless of the subject or grade they teach. It is a nationwide program, and so far educators from 31 US states have traveled with us. Participants in our program are allowed to bring 1-2 guests each, which can be family members or friends over the age of 18.
WE: How do you determine the locations (and itinerary, etc.) for your trips?
JW: Each country selected by GEEO for our programs must be safe, relatively inexpensive, and able to accommodate the types of activities we try to include in each program, such as:
* school visits
* meetings and lectures with experts, professors and government officials
* ecological tours
* cultural immersion
* volunteer activity
We choose developing countries because they offer the kind of experience that exposes participants to a radically different culture than their own. We also seek geographic diversity that gives educators very different programs to choose from. In 2010 we will be running trips to India, China, Southern Africa, Tunisia, Peru and Panama.
WE: How do you give back to the local communities, while you travel?
JW: This is a tricky thing to do and something we take very seriously. First of all, we work with tour companies that adhere to sustainable tourism practices. This way we minimize the harmful aspects of tourism.
Most of our trips have school visits as part of the itinerary and we encourage participants to bring locally purchased supplies to these schools. We try to improve these visits each year, learning what worked and what didn't work.
Some of our programs incorporate a volunteer day or two so that we can do more for local communities. For example, in Peru this summer's teachers ran an English language clinic with a woman’s collective that makes and sells local handicrafts. Our participants helped them learn basic English so they can better sell their goods.
Truth be told, in the end, it's very hard to make an impact on local communities given that our programs are 2-3 weeks long and hop around the host country. GEEO programs are focused on exposure rather than volunteerism. The biggest impact we make on the communities we visit is spending money locally, which is important for their economy.
WE: What is the long-term impact of your trips, for the educator participants?
JW: Travel is an important life experience that changes how you see the world. This fundamental rewiring of the brain is what our program seeks to achieve with each of our participants. Some of the teachers that have participated in our programs over the past two years are already well traveled. They see the GEEO programs as a great deal in terms of price and content. More and more, we hope to reach educators who have never traveled outside of the Western world, as the impact of these programs on them will be all the more life-altering.
In a more concrete sense, GEEO gives educators the tools to bring their travel experience into their classroom and inspire their students to follow in their footsteps. Our Power Point and Google Earth presentations require almost no preparation for the educator and require little classroom time. Our testing has shown that they can really change students’ opinions on the importance of learning a foreign language, traveling and studying abroad. We hope that teachers will incorporate their GEEO experience long into their careers, meaning that generations of students will benefit from the GEEO program.
WE: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?
JW: To find out more about GEEO, please visit our website, www.geeo.org. We will be running programs to Panama and Costa Rica this winter and there is still space available in both programs. In October we will announce our summer 2010 programming, which may include new programs to China and Southern Africa. To keep up to date on GEEO’s programming, sign up for our listserv by emailing jesse[at]geeo.org.
Like most non-profits, we could always use help with fundraising. Every dollar allows GEEO to expand its programs and reach more teachers. If anyone has any questions, they should feel free to call me at 1-888-600-0105.
WE: We also talked with a few teachers that have recently gone on GEEO trips. We interviewed Molly Last, about her trip to Peru, in A Teacher's Journey with Global Exploration for Educators. We also talked with two teachers - here are their thoughts on traveling with GEEO...
Jill Blasucci, ESL Facilitator, Allentown School District
WE: What led you to go on a GEEO trip?
JB: I have always wanted to teach in a foreign school and this trip offered that experience as well as sightseeing.
WE: How did going on the trip change you? How has/will it influence(d) your teaching?
JB: I gained a new appreciation for the modern conveniences we have here in the United States. The families I lived with on the homestays were people who grew their own food and had limited resources but shared what they had with me.
WE: How can you inspire your students to travel and experience different cultures?
JB: By sharing what i gained on this trip, I try to encourage others to experience what life is like for people in other countries. I tell the truth- it was difficult to not have flushing toilets and hot showers, but the people were so content with their homes and lives that I felt a new appreciation for family and what it means to be generous.
Janet Matthews, English teacher and Curriculum Leader, Grades 6-12, Westlake High School, Thornwood, NY
WE: What led you to go on a GEEO trip?
JM: I have always been attracted to the spirit of adventure, exotic places, and the desire to intimately know a culture that involves exploring the terrain, the people, and the history of place. GEEO is not the typical tour whose primary focus is a postcard view of a country.
WE: How did going on the trip change you? How has/will it influence your teaching?
JM: For me, Tunisia was a living kaleidascope from visiting The Great Mosque of Kairouan , to exploring the medinas, to experiencing the camel caravans of the Sahara to touching ancient history of the archeological sites and to feel both the power and beauty of the Mediteranean.> The unfamiliar sounds of Arabic and different Muslim traditions are no longer unfamiliar and I am eager to learn more about this culture. In my teaching, my photos of the island of Jerba will make Homer's Odyssey come alive, expecially in the episode of the Lotus eaters. Visuals of the rocky terrain, cave dwellings, Troglodyte homes dug into rock, clay jugs, and artifacts of sheeps' skins will bring a new level of understanding to my students when we analyze the wit of Odysseus in his escape from the cyclops. My related poetry unit is now a visual presentation. In approaching my units on Julius Caesar and the Roman research paper, I feel I now can make history come alive since I now have a deeper understanding of this amazing culture and their contribution to architecture documented by my photos and visuals from the amphitheatre in EL Jem ,the Antonine Baths in Carthage, and the intricate mosaics from the Bardo Museum in Tunis.
WE: How can you inspire your students to travel and experience different cultures?
JM: The joy of this exploration, I think will be evident to my students as they see me on our class page dressed in a toga at the ancient Roman ruins of Sbeitla, wearing traditional Berber clothing in Douz on a desert caravan, and conversing with teachers and students in Hammamet. I hope my over 800 photos will help my students realize that while Tunisa is on the African continent, we are all global citizens.
WE: Thank you, Molly, Janet, Jill, and Jesse. We are so very impressed with GEEO and how they are inspiring teachers to share the world. We highly recommend them!
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All photos courtesy and copyright of GEEO.