From the Series on How to Travel on a Social Worker’s Budget
Belief 1) I am Not Poor
Belief 3) Look for Exchange Opportunities Abroad
Belief 4) Live Abroad by Studying or Volunteering
For those who enjoy unpacking your suitcase and staying a while….
I first got the travel bug when I studied abroad in Italy and Spain during my junior year in college. In Italy, here I did a direct exchange from my private school to an affiliate school in Rome. I lived in a dorm with other Americans for the same cost as my college. I traveled throughout Italy every weekend with my American classmates, but I never had any Italian friends nor picked up the language.
The best educational experience and budget deal was the second semester when I transferred to the local public university in Alicante, Spain and lived with a host family. The cost of this semester was half the price of my semester in Italy. Living with a host family and going to classes with Spaniards provided me with a much more authentic experience. I developed such a strong relationship with my host family that two years later they came to visit the U.S. and stayed with my family in San Francisco. Now, I can travel to Alicante and know that I always have a place to stay with my “Spanish family”.
There are numerous programs for adult learners for short term family stays, language schools, or semester programs. IPSA is a consortium of study abroad programs where a third of its participants are in their mid 20’s, 30’s and 40s.
Volunteering is another great way to open yourself to another culture. I started my social work career as a volunteer. After college I joined the Jesuit Volunteers International Program. Similar to the Peace Corps, there is a two year commitment and you have to be open to going to whichever country they place you in. My placement was as a social worker in a beach town in Arica, Chile. They sent me to Baywatch! I acquired bilingual Spanish skills and job experience that looks impressive on my resume while gaining the experience of living abroad. There were local advisers to make my international experience smooth, as well as a community of coworkers and neighbors who welcomed a volunteer. I only earned $50 a month, but all of my living expenses were covered. Whether you are looking to volunteer for a week or two years, there are programs that need your help. Volunteer International is a comprehensive website of well supported international programs abroad where you can search by length of program, country, and skills.
Studying abroad or volunteering abroad can give you a local address and an educational experience that you can’t find on any vacation!