Like those in the medical profession, the motto for volunteers who travel overseas to work on projects in the developing world should be “Do no harm”, and the same could be said for any student travelling overseas for a language or education programme in any country around the world. Anyone travelling overseas is an ambassador for their country and the way they behave can have a significant effect on the experiences of those travelling abroad in the future.
This topic has featured heavily in the UK press recently as UK students are being told not to undertake volunteering projects overseas in their gap year as they are regarded as a waste of time and serve no purpose for the host country. Our feature on the ethics of volunteering in Work Wise this month enters this debate by pointing out the efforts taken by many companies to ensure that their projects are truly locally-run and serve a purpose for the local community (page 51). Instead of condemning all volunteering schemes, students are encouraged to look into a project’s credentials and take responsibility for their choices.
With any programme involving travel overseas, care has to be taken to ensure that both the incoming students and the local community have a positive experience of it. Language schools often go out of their way to ensure that students get to experience something of the local life of the country they are visiting and our Spotlight feature on English and culture programmes in the UK highlights the innovative thinking going on behind the development of new courses (page 25).
In France too, the French government is working at ensuring that relations between local people and rugby world cup funs run smoothly as the country plays host to most of the games being played. A comprehensive language programme and phrase book has been launched to try and encourage fans to speak French to local people and minimise the impact of so many people visiting the country at the same time (page 7).
Our Direction feature on the benefits of large chain versus small independent language schools highlights the importance of personal communication in all schools at all levels (page 32). It is this sentiment that should guide all travellers, whatever the objective of their pursuits.
Both travellers and organisers of travel programmes have a responsibility to respect their hosts and as an industry it is up to all of us to ensure that this is the rule rather than the exception.