Maximizing Your Global Learning Experience (a series) Part I: Preparing Well

These days, there are many opportunities to not just visit another country for pleasure, but spend time getting to know a community and a culture. College education-abroad programs, faith-based experiences, international culture exchanges, and “voluntourism” opportunities all offer the chance to learn wherever you travel. In this blog post series, author Pat Elson will provide tips making the most of your learning experience with posts on Preparing Well, While You are There, and Meaningful Action on Return.

Tips for maximizing your global learning experience by preparing well:


  1. Connect with fellow travelers. Connect with one or two people who have gone to your country of destination to reflect on their experience. Some questions to ask include: What did it mean to you? What surprised you? What did you find challenging? What advise do you have for me to maximize my experience and learning?
  2. Build your support. Name 2-3 individuals to accompany you (in spirit) before, during and after your experience. Clarify how and when you will connect, and for what purpose. Their support will be invaluable.
  3. Capture your experience. Commit to keeping a journal during your experience and select one other way to collect memories and learning. Some ideas include: drawing, photographs, items from the country, notes, letters, blog, email, and the like.
  4. Be prepared. Research local climate, history, cultural norms, food, washrooms, public transport and electricity requirements. The more you know before you go, the fewer surprises you will have and fewer cultural errors you will make.
  5. Set goals and expectations. Before you leave, reflect on why you want to travel to this place at this time. Write your expectations of the experience, including what you expect to happen when you return.
  6. Access inner resources. Reflect on a challenge you have faced and name how you overcame it. Acknowledge and build on your inner resources and resiliency!
  7. Phone home. Plan when and how you will connect with friends and family during your experience. Discuss your plan with these people and adapt as needed.
  8. Pack light, travel light. Limit yourself to one piece of luggage and make sure you can carry it. You will need to be able to move about easily to lessen unwanted challenges while you are traveling, and while you are there.
  9. Learn the language. Learn some simple greetings and phrases. Make sure you know how to say hello, please and thank you – your hosts will greatly appreciate this. A guidebook will be invaluable.
  10. Take money. Exchange currency before departure but know that in many countries you can use your visa to pay and withdraw money. Find out about the country and city you are going to.
  11. Include your network. Share your itinerary with friends, family and your sending community. Make sure you share your excitement and concerns as well – they want to know how to support you.
  12. Share your story. Think about how you will document your trip before you leave. Photo journaling? Blog? Social media? Have a plan and be sure to follow through!

Which of these tips have you found especially helpful?

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Pat Elson ( is the Team Leader for People in Partnership programs for The United Church of Canada.