I have always known somewhere in the back of my mind that I wanted to travel. I mean, doesn’t everyone? To see the world, experience life to the fullest, and put real meaning to the random names on a map? However, traveling has a notorious reputation for being expensive. College students have a notorious reputation for being broke. At 19 years old, I didn’t think it’d be possible for me to travel until maybe after I had finished college, started a career and saved up. I had considered the option of possibly studying abroad during school, but at the hefty price tag of $10,000-$20,000 for a semester depending on the country, program, and several other circumstances, even that seemed a just a little out of reach. It was when I discovered an international volunteer program aimed towards college-aged individuals that I realized it was actually possible for me to live out my wanderlust dreams and not have to wait until I was graduated and drowning in student loan debt to try to make travel adventures happen.
The Utah-based volunteer organization, International Language Programs sends young adults to ten different countries around the world to teach English or work in an orphanage. Get this- no teaching experience is required! You don’t even have to be an actual college student or enrolled in school– you just need to be at least 18 years of age.
When I was writing for The Odyssey, I wrote an article about this volunteer program. You can find it by clicking here, but nevertheless, I wanted to write something about this on my own personal blog.
You have the choice to travel through, live in and teach foreign children for a whole semester in China, Mexico, Thailand, Lithuania, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, the Dominican Republic, Poland and Haiti. These definitely aren’t a shabby bunch of options. In spring 2015, I typed ILP.org into my computer’s address bar, browsed around the site a bit and before I closed the window I had already applied to spend a semester abroad. Originally, I put Mexico on my application. For school, my intentions were to minor in Spanish and what better place to learn the language than in the middle of Mexico? Quickly though, I changed my mind because I wanted to go to all of the countries and indecision paralyzed me. Because I couldn’t decide, I opted for the “flex pay” option that ILP offers– by choosing the flex pay option, this means that you agree to go whatever country you are needed in the most and in exchange for your gracious flexibility, ILP will shave $150 off from the top of your program fee. All in all though, my fate led me to the crazy world that is China.
In order to participate in a life-changing experience such as this one, all volunteers pay a program fee. The price of the program fee is the cheapest I had seen in all the volunteer programs I’ve ever researched– $2,520 for a semester abroad*. Your fee includes food and housing for four months, your country visa, and most importantly, your airfare.
*Due to the nature of the service in there, the humanitarian programs in the Dominican Republic, Romania, and Haiti are more expensive– $3,720-$5,470, but still include your food, housing, visa, and airfare.
Despite the cheap price tag of the program fee, there are several other expenses to keep in mind such as: luggage fees, travel insurance ($106 from ILP), spending money ($1,000-$1,500 minimum recommended by ILP), purchasing teaching supplies ($100-$200), costs to getting to and from teaching training in Utah or the price of taking online training before departure, as well as all the little things you’ll need to pick up from the store to take to your country (American comfort food, some toiletries, travel necessities, etc). Even with all these extra costs, the price to volunteer abroad for a whole four months with the International Language Programs is far less expensive than studying abroad or participating in any other volunteer program I’ve seen for that length of time.
Additionally, what makes all of these first time fees with ILP worth it is the opportunity you have as an alumni to volunteer again and go for free. After you volunteer once with ILP, you can apply to be a head teacher in the same country you went to before or choose an entirely new country to live in and explore without paying the program fee. Your housing, food, visa, and airfare is all waived, and you get a travel stipend from the organization! With this “head teacher discount”, why wouldn’t you want to keep going to different countries semester after semester for free? I’ve already checked living in China and Mexico off my list, and in August, I’ll be able to cross off Thailand.
Understand that you are there to teach first and foremost. There’s also a pretty extensive “code of conduct”, however that’s just used to keep the volunteers safe and the experience a safe and positive one. Following some rules you’re not usually used to in exchange for a FREE experience of a life-time isn’t a bad bargain.
Priorities are different for everyone. Some want to finish school, some want a career, and some want to travel as much as they can. In August 2015, I emptied my backpack of textbooks and notepads and filled it with some clothes, a camera, and my passport instead. My semester in China was a changing point in my life and the start of my traveling addiction. Living in a different country is hard, inconvenient and confusing; but it’s also the most rewarding, growing, and educational experience as well.
By volunteering abroad with ILP, you’ll not only be hiking around China, backpacking through Europe, sipping piña coladas on the beach in the Dominican Republic, and snorkeling in Thailand, but you’ll be making a significant difference in the world. You are there to teach English to students in these countries. You’ll form bonds, you’ll deal with their craziness, and you’ll be teaching them an incredible skill that will undoubtedly help them throughout the rest of their lives.
So is it possible to travel as a broke college student? With ILP, it most definitely is.
To learn more about this program and all the cool places you can travel to and all the cute kids you can teach, visit ILP.org!