Decades of experience teach us that living and working with people around the world challenges students and local community members to open themselves to new people, cultures, and ideas. Meaningful exchange doesn’t happen automatically when you travel. We craft each component of our programs to ensure genuine and reciprocal cross-cultural exchange.
Year after year we see boundaries fall away as perceived differences between our students and their hosts are replaced by common ground, universal good will, and the idea best articulated by Maya Angelou in her poem “The Human Family”:
This fundamental insight and the honest human connections it nurtures helps us grow in ways we might never have imagined. A heightened awareness of self and others is the first step in educating a new generation of leaders capable of guiding us toward a sustainable global future.
Global Routes brings together people with different worldviews because we believe the best learning happens when people meet face-to-face and communicate openly and honestly.
Meaningful cross-cultural exchange requires building a safe space for learning languages and sharing ideas, stories, customs, and resources. We foster this meaningful cross-cultural exchange through homestays, collaborative service projects, and cultural activities. We prioritize learning from direct interaction with local hosts. We set aside time for processing and reflecting upon these experiences. We give students strategies for retaining, transferring, and applying new knowledge to their lives when they return home.
Reciprocal exchange is any interaction that adds value to the lives of everyone involved. Our students, program leaders, in-country partners, and local host communities play an essential role in our programs. We make sure our interactions are not one-sided transactions. Our hosts get as much – or more – out of our presence in their community as do our students.
In-country staff are our friends, and provide the perfect liaison between potential host communities, our year-round staff, and our student groups. All in-country staff members are born and raised in the country where they provide support. They have strong connections to local leaders and communities. They’re intimately familiar with community goals, culture, and traditions. They also understand the goals and expectations of Global Routes. We’ve worked with many of our in-country contacts for over twenty years.
We consider a wide variety of factors when selecting a host community. We evaluate everything from practical considerations such as safety and living conditions to more subjective measures such as community atmosphere and expectations. Communities often approach our staff to express an interest in welcoming a group of Global Routes students, so we only go where we’re wanted and never force the situation. If a community is excited about hosting a group of Global Routes students, then that’s where we want to be. We make an effort to visit new communities each year, and intentionally space community visits several years apart, so that more people can participate in and benefit from this unique experience.
Our community service projects and teaching placements (for gap programs) benefit the communities we visit. Many host communities have a predetermined project or placement in mind and request that our student time and fundraising efforts synchronize with their specific community goals. Other communities meet with their leaders, community associations, and residents to gauge present need, then collaborate with Global Routes in-country staff to determine an appropriate project.
There’s no way to know if our programs do what we claim – i.e. foster meaningful and positive cross-cultural exchange – without asking the participants directly. We seek and honor feedback from everyone involved in our programs, from host communities to students and parents to program leaders and in-country staff. Our leaders and staff gather feedback directly from our hosts to learn about our impact and influence. We request participants, parents, and leaders to complete written evaluations after every program. This level of feedback enables us to strengthen our programs each year.