One of the more interesting trends in the world of eco-tourism is the concept of voluntourism. As greenies planning a vacation, we consider our own impacts on the places we visit, and here at EcoSalon, we’re all about empowering our readers to make more earth-friendly choices when traveling. But more than simply minimizing our impact, how else can we truly make a difference? How can we be green ambassadors abroad? Even on a micro-level?
Become an international volunteer. Note that not all volunteering abroad means hours on end of hard labor. There are many different organizations out there to suit your needs – whether it’s full immersion or just getting your feet wet. Green Building? Check. Humanitarian? Check.
The benefits of volunteering abroad are endless. Working with people on their own soil, on their own terms makes you more like an ambassador for your own country, and the people you are helping will take notice. All of the sudden you’ll find yourself being respected in a way that’s deeply satisfying. You’ll also gain access to the nuances that define the true color of place in such a way that ordinary tourism doesn’t lend itself to.
About five years ago, I spent a few months in Czech Republic. I met a student named Leebor in a town called Brno who was studying English on a park bench next to me. I made a comment that his accent sounded authentic. He told me about a test he was taking in the next few days that would test his English proficiency for a really good job. I offered to help Leebor, not really knowing what I was getting into. For the next several hours I worked with Leebor on independent clauses, modal verbs, and third person verb declension. Leebor passed the test and he invited me to his family’s celebration for getting the new job.
All of the sudden, I was in a Czech family home, cooking, eating, drinking and sharing romantic glances with Leebor’s beautiful aunt who looked at me like I was the second coming of Christ for helping her nephew. They asked me to stay with them and take a trip to the country the next day for a feast and to visit a friend’s farm. I accepted. There, I met a farmer who was introducing sustainable agriculture practices to the region, and working to establish a program that would get European students to Czech Republic to teach other farmers on sustainable practices. Amazing. And all because I opened my mind to possibility and made a comment to a kid on a park bench.