Volunteer Vacations Offer Fulfillment, Service to Others, and Inexpensive Travel

Guest post by Lynn Lotkowictz

About three years ago, at age 62, I was finishing up my media sales management career and realized it was time to move on. My pension was set so I was lucky that I had flexibility. I knew I no longer wanted a full-time job.

Retire? But to what? I don't play golf, crochet, play bridge or enjoy any of those interests my friends do. I adore my grandson and family, but they are 1,200 miles away so a weekend four or five times a year is the best I can do.

Travel, the outdoors, healthy endeavors and children are my passions. In 2013, I started to work on a plan for the next phase of life. The goal was for it to be meaningful and rewarding.

I surfed the internet looking for travel ideas, cost-effective options and different ways that volunteering would be mutually beneficial with my interests, skills and passions. My good friend bought me a book on volunteer travel. In my free time I read, analyzed and sifted through websites and books, and talked with colleagues and friends.

I narrowed down the volunteer organizations to those that offered places I'd like to go and involved my interest in helping young people. I called each group, asked lots of questions and, most important, asked for email addresses of people who had traveled with them. That, I thought, would be the best way to learn about the pluses and minuses of a program.

During my last two years of full-time employment, I traveled to Crete, Greece with Global Volunteers, a non-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The trip was wonderful. I worked with the Morfosi school, an after-school program that helps students practice conversational English. The location was breathtaking. The students were energetic and genuinely interested in learning. There was ample free time to enjoy museums, archeological sites and traditional dining. I worked with a team of volunteers who have similar goals and interests so I also made friends.

Lynn enjoys Sunday free time near Elounda Beach

Global Volunteers offers short-term service programs in more than a dozen countries as well as the United States. Fees for the program run from $1,500 to $2,900 plus airfare, depending on where you choose to go and for how long. Programs run from one to three weeks. The accommodations vary. The hotel we used in Crete could use some updates and the rooms were very basic, but the hospitality of the staff and management of the hotel were warm and very welcoming. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were included in the program. The meals were traditional and dinner felt like "family time."

When I returned from my second trip in 2015, I was even more enthusiastic than I was after my first trip. So I decided to look into some options to enhance my skills. Since many Global Volunteers service program center around working with students on English, I researched courses that might give me some tips and new skills. There are some online courses in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) and a local college in my area offers a four-week program through Via Lingua that qualifies students to teach English as a second language in some countries. I'm not planning to move to China or anywhere else, but I thought it would be useful to pick up some solid tips on teaching English as a second language. The more I learn, the more impact I can have on the students.

I've also found a local, state-funded public school program near my home. Their goal is to teach immigrants basic English skills to function in the U.S. They need volunteers to supplement their work in the classroom. I emailed the director and asked to sit in a class for an hour or two. This was an eye-opening experience. Students were from the Congo, Haiti, the Ukraine, Egypt, Cuba, and Colombia. They all entered the U.S. under different circumstances. All wanted to be here and were thrilled at the prospect of a new life in my community. The classroom experience is totally different when each person is there because they want to be and is eager to assimilate to their new homeland.

My third trip to Crete with the Global Volunteers program was in October, 2016 and it was my best experience to date. After three trips to the same island, I'm familiar with the local bus service to comfortably get around. I know the best spots for an espresso, spanakopita (spinach pie) and a cool drink beachside.

Lynn has formed lasting relationships with some of her students.

The students remember me and their warmth is exhilarating. It's a joy to watch them mature from year to year and improve their skills. When I was leaving this year they hugged me and said they hoped to see me next year. By going back to the same program, I'm building meaningful relationships. I stay in touch with a handful of the students all year round via social media. I've made friends with the teacher and her family and I am invited for coffee on the weekend with her friends.

In summary, I've had the opportunity to be part of another culture in a very authentic way.

My very generous boss wanted to throw me a retirement party. Instead, I suggested that he make a donation on my behalf to Global Volunteers, and he did!

I'm happy to report that I'm executing my retirement plan and feel fortunate that it has come together better than I ever dreamed!

In January, 2017 I spent one week in Miramar, a suburb of Havana, with Global Volunteers’ Havana program. It was another wonderful experience that gave me a new perspective of a country I really had little knowledge of. But that's another story.


Lynn Lotkowictz lives in St. Petersburg, FL with her husband Bill, who is an entertainer at more than 20 assisted living facilities in the area.

Lynn’s greatest joy comes from spending time with her family, meaningful travel experiences, and health and fitness endeavors. Her favorite destination is her father's homeland, Crete. She is enjoying her involvement with Global Volunteers and recently returned from ten days in Havana, Cuba.

Lynn is happy to talk to anyone who is interested in her story or would like more details about her travel experiences. Contact Lynn at llotkow@gmail.com.


All photos provided by Lynn Lotkowictz. All rights reserved.

Resources:

Volunteer Vacation programs: Global Volunteers, Cross-Cultural Solutions Volunteer Vacations, GlobeAware, REI Volunteer Vacations, GoVoluntouring, WorldTeach.

Training programs to become certified in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL): International TEFL Academy, TEFL Online, Via Lingua. You should research training programs by visiting websites such as  TEFL Course Review and Go Abroad TEFL Courses. TEFL certification is not required for most volunteer vacation trips, but it may increase your skills. It may be required if you wish to get a permanent job teaching English as a second language in another country.

These links are offered for your convenience. These programs have not been researched and evaluated by Retire Fabulously!, and no endorsement or guarantee is implied. Please exercise due diligence by asking questions of the organization, reading reviews, and contacting people who have participated in these programs, as Lynn did. Retire Fabulously! did not receive any form of promotional consideration from any of these organizations.

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