This week I’ve been exploring the interesting intersections between tourism and learning. In some cases, like Return to Freedom (the American wild horse sanctuary) and the Virgin Islands Sustainable Farm Institute, volunteer tourists learn directly through work. They help take care of animals, help with research, work on the farm, and help conceive of new sustainable projects. In other cases, like the Texas A&M Volunteer Entomology Training Program, volunteers learn in the traditional way, in the classroom. At EcoTeach, the subject of today’s article, volunteer tourists learn in a combination of ways—through wilderness expeditions (a classroom in the forest), conservation work, cultural exchange, and guided exploration.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about an organization called Go Overseas. They work to help match travelers with volunteer opportunities all over the world. My article focused on the great intuitive setup of their website. I love how they feature reviews from volunteers who’ve had experience in the field and was curious to learn more about how the organization works. I was fortunate to have a chance to speak with Katie Boyer, the Volunteer Director at Go Overseas. Katie explained how the organization works, how they choose their featured opportunities, and what they plan for the future. Enjoy!
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a biology student. I volunteer with a wildlife conservation organization in my area and spend a lot of time with biologists in the field. A few weeks ago I was chatting with a career biologist—a man who has spent the past thirty years working with endangered species. Somehow the topic of climate change came up, and I was flabbergasted to discover that he doesn’t believe in it, as if it weren’t the overwhelming scientific consensus. It illustrated something I’ve long understood: that a person’s political views (he is a staunch conservative) can dramatically affect his opinions, even when he should know better. None of us wants climate change to be real. We all want to cling to a memory of a time when we weren’t so profoundly afraid for our planet.
In 1983, an older friend asked if I wanted to come down into deep Mexico, for a week, to help him with some volunteer work there. At that time, he didn’t think of it as “voluntourism,” an “ethical holiday,” or “sustainable tourism.” He called it going down to see some friends.
We drove through the border at El Paso, and into Juarez, in his old camper truck. The ride seemed innocuous enough, until we got down south out of the populated area. Within a couple of miles, I saw an abandoned car by the side of the road and … stopped breathing for a minute. It’s one thing to see a car on blocks with the tires gone. It’s another thing to see a car with the engine gone, the axles gone, the side panels gone, the hood gone, the seats all gone, the steering wheel gone … later, when the Terminator movies came out, I thought of that car. It looked like Hunter-Killer robots had mined it for any possible morsel of salable scrap. The stripped chassis of the car screamed “survival mode.” We ain’t in Kansas any more, Dorothy.