True Immersion Experiences: World Endeavors

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Immersion in a different culture – through study abroad, internships, working, or volunteering, is a unique and powerful way to enhance your intercultural development. While some people find themselves connecting with like people overseas (e.g.,creating an island of Americans), others work on getting to know the locals, learning the language and culture, and going through the sometimes uncomfortable, but always inevitable cross-cultural adjustment. When you truly want to learn a culture, you open yourself up to incredible new experiences.

One of the best organizations I’ve seen that helps to provide this sort of experience is World Endeavors. Take a look at their website - you’ll be amazed at the incredible opportunities offered. To learn more about World Endeavors, I was lucky enough to sit down and chat with the founder, Tom Peden. What a fantastic interview! Here’s what he had to say…

 

 

World Endeavors - Tom in Ghana

 

 

WE: Please tell us a little bit about World Endeavors.

TP: World Endeavors provides immersive volunteer, intern, and study abroad programs. We were founded in 2002 with the goal of giving our participants meaningful and culturally immersive international experiences.

 


WE:
How did you get started?

TP: I grew up in a small town in the Midwest seemingly as far away from another country as one could get. While I always had a curiosity about what life was like in other countries, I never had the opportunity to travel abroad. My first opportunity came as a sophomore in college. I was invited to take part in a short-term service trip to Venezuela with the college concert band. We traveled around the country giving free concerts and I had the chance to interact with people in local communities. My eyes were opened! It was one of the most life-changing experiences I have ever had. I discovered a passion for learning about new people and cultures through first-hand experience. I can’t say that the experience was always easy. I had to learn to navigate in a new culture using a new language, and at times it was a real struggle. But looking back, the challenges were part of the learning process. This trip really served as a starting point for future world travels and countless new cultural experiences. In 2002 I started World Endeavors because I wanted others to have the same opportunity that I had. Our goal as an organization is to serve as a catalyst for life-changing experiences abroad.

 


WE: What sort of experiences do you provide? In what geographic areas?

TP: World Endeavors provides immersive volunteer, intern, and study abroad programs, and we are currently in 22 different countries in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. Our programs range in duration from a 2 week volunteer placement to a full year study abroad program. We’re very excited about our most recent additions - a volunteer program in Arusha, Tanzania, and internship and study abroad programs in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

 

World Endeavors - Costa Rica

 

 


WE: What do you think makes World Endeavors unique?

TP: I think that what makes World Endeavors unique is our strong belief in the value of cultural immersion. Our participants do not want to spend their time abroad living in a “bubble” with other foreigners. They are ready for the rewards and the challenges of immersing themselves in another culture. One of the key elements of our focus on immersion is the home stay. Participants get a chance to see first-hand how a family in their host country works, what and how they eat, what they talk about, and how they spend their free time. We also believe that learning the language is a great way to better understand a new culture, and we incorporate language training into our programs as well.

I also think that our staff truly set us apart. Our US staff have all spent time abroad - we’ve lived, studied, volunteered, interned, and traveled extensively in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Africa. We have tips on how to make your Euros stretch in Italy, where the best hiking is in Costa Rica, and where you can get a great meal in Bangkok, and we love sharing our knowledge and enthusiasm with participants. We have found over the years that our participants really value being able to talk with staff who have spent time abroad. We also have a wonderful group of in-country coordinators who are committed to ensuring that our participants have a positive experience abroad.

 

WE: What are some of your most popular volunteer programs?

TP: One of our most popular volunteer programs is the orphanage assistance program. Volunteers work with an orphanage in their host community and help in caring for the children, playing games with them, teaching them, and generally providing warmth and support. These placements are very rewarding for volunteers, as they are able to make true connections with the children and the staff of the orphanages. World Endeavors has orphanage assistance programs in Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Nepal, the Philippines, Tanzania, and Thailand.

We had a volunteer who went to India in late 2007 and worked at an orphanage that is home to about 35 babies and small children. She worked with the staff to help care for the babies, and she played games with the older children. She wrote to us saying how much respect she has for the hard work done every day by the founders of the orphanage. When she returned to her university, she began fundraising so that she could go back to India with a group to build a playground for the orphanage. She made such a strong connection with the staff at the orphanage that they even named one of the babies after her!

 

World Endeavors

 

 



WE: You also have several environmental conservation programs, right?


TP:
We do. We are proud of the strong commitment that we have made to the environment. World Endeavors has volunteers and interns working on environmental and wildlife conservation projects in countries around the world. Projects range from erosion control and reforestation in Thailand to sea turtle conservation in Costa Rica.

We have also taken some steps to minimize our impact on the environment at our home office in Minneapolis. All of the energy used by our office comes from wind, which is a rapidly growing sector in Minnesota. We also volunteer with the National Park Service in their efforts to increase populations of native plants and grasses along the banks of the Mississippi River, which is only a few blocks from our office.

 


WE: How do you find your great host families and local contacts?

TP: In addition to the staff in our US office, World Endeavors has in-country coordinators in all of the countries where we have volunteer and internship programs. Our coordinators are local people who are enthusiastic, experienced, English-speaking, and well connected in their communities. The coordinators carefully choose host families for our participants, and they also arrange our volunteer and internship placements.

 


WE: What time of year do most of your participants go abroad?

TP:
Many, though certainly not all, of our participants are students, so summer tends to be one of the most popular times of year. Our programs are available year-round, however, and we have noticed an increasing number of recent graduates, professionals of all ages, and families doing our programs at other times of the year.

 

 

World Endeavors

 

 

 

WE: How do you ensure that your volunteer projects are sustainable?

TP: World Endeavors volunteers work on projects that are ongoing and run by local organizations, so when they leave, the projects continue. The projects are determined and run based on needs assessments made by the local organizations, so the work done by our volunteers truly has an impact.

 


WE: What is the most important advice you could give someone who is volunteering abroad?

TP: Above all else, be flexible and open to new experiences. Volunteering abroad is not always easy. If you think about it, you are volunteering in a new country, working with new people, learning a new language, eating new foods, living with a new family, experiencing a new culture, and learning a new job. Add to this culture shock or home-sickness and the whole thing can be downright challenging. But the thing to keep in mind is that challenge can be good. In fact, those challenges are what lead to some of the most profound learning experiences. If you aren’t open, you may never reap the full benefits of your time abroad.

 


WE: Thanks so much, Tom. World Endeavors is such an incredible organization – I appreciate you taking the time to share it with us!

For more information on World Endeavors, please see: http://www.worldendeavors.com

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