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Try Before You Buy: 5 Tips for Leveraging Service & Culture Trips to Test-Drive a Location Before you Move Overseas

By Amy Dietrich

Summary: Service trips are a great way to test drive a destination before packing up and moving abroad. Amy Dietrich offers 5 tips for test-driving a new culture to determine if the destination is right for you.

Try Before You Buy - 5 Tips for Leveraging Service & Culture Trips to Test-Drive a Location Before you Move Overseas

Service and cultural trips are a common rite of passage for college students – a combination of community service and experiential learning that takes place during a semester, weekend or spring break. Trips immerse travelers in regional communities, engage in service that promotes education of social and environmental issues, and offer exposure to language skills and local culture by living directly in the community. Service and culture trip experiences don't need to end in college. Here are 5 tips on how you can test-drive a new culture before packing up and making the big move:

  1. Find your passion: Trips hosted by non-profits and NGOs hit the passion of an individual. Whether it's to build a home for low-income families, administer medical support, or deliver supplies to displaced individuals, these trips can have a meaningful impact. Think beyond third-world countries. All countries have some need for support. Finding a trip that calls attention to social and economic disparities is a way to understand the economic, cultural and governmental challenges of that country or city.
  2. Leverage your corporate volunteering benefits: Increasingly, companies are encouraging employees to make use of volunteer time. A few examples:
    • Salesforce lets its employees take as much as 56 total paid hours (seven days) for volunteering every year. The top 100 volunteers get a $10,000 grant to donate to the nonprofit of their choice.
    • VMware, the provider of virtualization software, calls volunteering 'service learning' and offers employees up to 40 hours (five days) of paid time per year. The company's Good Gigs program includes a trip component where employees team up with a non-profit, usually to provide tech resources and help to a community. Following the trip, employees share their experiences and lessons with the rest of the company.
    • Michigan-based medical technologies company Stryker gives employees up to 40 hours (five days) in paid volunteering time. The company also supports Operation Smile – an organization founded in 1982 that has provided more than 240,000 free surgical procedures to children for cleft lip and cleft palate. Stryker sent a team of its employees on a mission with Operation Smile in Bolivia, paying for all expenses for participating Stryker employees. The trip resulted in 115 new smiles for patients, and a supporting fundraising campaign organized by Stryker has raised funds for 160 surgeries.
    • At electronic design and engineering company Cadence, employees can take up to 40 paid hours (five days) to volunteer. In 2015, 27 Cadence worked with Rebuilding Together Silicon Valley to help repaint the house of the 94-year-old widow of a decorated army vet who shared stories and laughs with the team throughout the day. Other projects from Cadence employees have included collecting items for homeless veterans in Florida, mentoring Scottish students in math and science, volunteering at a children's village in Germany, picking kohlrabi for Israel's national food bank, and fundraising for a primary school in China.
  3. Extend your business trip: While traveling to a country where you may re-locate, resist the urge to go from office to hotel to airport. Embed yourself in the local culture. Find an organization that needs your support and can, in return, give you a deeper look at the local people, culture, and experience. This may include an after-school program (which you can do as an extension of your work day) or a weekend soup kitchen.
  4. Leave the tour book behind: No doubt, travel and tour books are handy resources, especially when it comes to pointing out important safety and navigational details of a foreign city or country. Yet to connect as a local, you'll want to pay attention to your own senses: the look, taste, sounds and smells of your target location. Ask questions and take tours as part of your service and cultural trip that are not the #1 tourist destination. After all, your intention is to become a local.
  5. Take stock: When returning from your service or cultural trip, consider the pros and cons of the experience. Did it meet the requirements for you to choose to move to that country or city? If you struggled with the language, how will you prepare yourself to make a more permanent move? Did you like the food and can you see yourself eating it on a daily basis?

Ultimately, service and culture trips are designed to transform individuals into globally conscious citizens. In the case of an expat, the experience may be a way to bring that consciousness into the decision-making process of whether to make a move to a new region, country or city.

For more information:

Projects Abroad

These 8 Employers Will Pay You to Volunteer on Fortune.com.

Worldwide NGO Directory

About the Author

AS Amy Dietrich, 28 DaysAmy Dietrich is contributing to Expat Exchange as a recent traveler to Guatemala with Habitat for Humanity Global Village. In addition to her role in human resources with a global technology company, Amy is co-founder of the non-profit 28 Days.

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First Published: Oct 26, 2016

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