GoAbroad Interview

Glen Galindo - Country Coordinator

Glen Galindo

After more than two decades of experience in education, along with a few years in the Marine Corps, working for International Service Learning is a dream come true for Glen. He enjoys facilitating educational experiences for volunteers in Colombia, while also helping support the local people.

You’ve worked in higher education for more than 20 years. How were you first introduced to International Service Learning (ISL)?

I left higher education in 2010 to launch a non-profit dedicated to helping first-generation students of migrant and seasonal farmworker backgrounds reach and succeed in higher education. I always had a clear understanding as to the value of international education experiences for college students in developing into global citizens.

I decided to invite Michael Birbaum, founder of ISL, to be one of my board members. Then ISL generously began to donate Global Health Team trips to some of my students. It was then, through learning more about ISL, that I became even more enthusiastic about the work that ISL was doing and the difference it was making in both the participating students as well as the communities they served abroad. Little by little, I became more involved with ISL. Then, I offered to launch Colombia for ISL in 2014.

International Service Learning Global Health Team in Colombia
ISL Global Health Team serve three to four villages during each service trip in Colombia.

At that point, after leading the first pilot team, not only did I fall in love with the ISL experience, but also ever more with the central Colombian paradise known as the Eje Cafetero; a unique and gorgeous landscape. There really is nothing like this region, worldwide. Hence, UNESCO considers the Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia a global treasure. I couldn’t be happier sharing Colombia and helping young health pre-professionals find their calling as future doctors, nurses, or physical therapists while they serve rural farm worker communities in Colombia.

What did you love about ISL when you joined the team?  

What I immediately loved about ISL was that I had the opportunity to work with an established & trusted international organization of over 20 years in the field of medical missions, but also that I had the opportunity to develop a new country for them. It was the perfect match for what would afford me perhaps the greatest adventure in my life; the opportunity to utilize all my prior professional experiences in the service of others. I would be able to teach and work with youth, I would be able to problem-solve logistic challenges, and I would have the opportunity to live in one of the most beautiful places on Earth doing what makes me happy: serving others. Wow, am I lucky!

Why is ISL unique?

There are no other providers that have operated for so long and so wide, while having established such great integrity with national governments. ISL has been operating since 1994, and has operations in 12 countries of the Americas and Africa, with Asia coming on board in the near future!

The combined industry experience within the ISL team is unmatched.
Volunteer with little boy in Colombia
All children need to learn to dream and know they have the strength to fulfill them.

How are ISL programs in Colombia different from other program opportunities?

Colombia is the world’s second most biodiverse nation in the world; second only to Brazil. After decades of violence and newly found peace, the Colombian people are incredibly eager to welcome foreigners. Colombia has been sheltered from global exploration and soon the world will all fall in love with the beauty of the Colombian natural landscape and unmatched human spirit.

Colombians are happy and welcoming people, and there is great need where we serve. You will most definitely have an immediate impact on those communities and individuals if you’re lucky enough to dare come to Colombia on a Global Health Team. Of the tiny 36 coffee villages in central Colombia where we have served since 2014, not a single person we met had ever met a foreigner of any other nation. This is a truly special opportunity to be among the first foreign organizations to operate in these areas.

What makes Colombia a great place for international learning experiences?

There are several reason why Colombia is a fantastic stage to serve and learn internationally. Yes, it is beautiful, safe, inexpensive, welcoming, and has a great deal of need in its vast rural regions. But, the most special and unique opportunity is that most of Colombia has been without much contact from abroad.

Last year we had our Global Health Teams conduct rural medical clinics in 36 villages. We have not found a single person who has met a non-Colombian before meeting our ISL volunteers. This unique experience of cross-cultural exchange with a virgin community is incredibly special and cannot be compared with going to many other Latin American countries, where the locals are used to meeting international visitors. Our Global Health Team program participants had an incredible one-in-a-lifetime experience providing service to Colombians that would otherwise not received, and forever changed their life in a very personal and deep level. This is truly unique. But, this circumstance won’t last forever, and only in the next couple of years our Colombia volunteers will have this unparalleled experience as pioneers in the central Colombian coffee region.

Tourists eating popsicles in Colombia
Have you ever tasted a coffee popsicle? Yumm!

In your role, how do you ensure volunteers make the most of their time abroad?

We keep them completely engaged serving, learning, and having fun! They are up by 6 a.m. and don’t end their day until after 10 p.m. I know my participants have been looking forward to their Global Health Team for months and traveled very far to experience the most possible. We seldom have any downtime. We are not a leisurely vacation; we are a service learning experience. We serve intensely and intently, we have a full schedule seven days a week.

I understand my role as team leader is to facilitate the most life-changing positive learning experience as possible. I have every hour of the day planned with intentional activities that provide the students with a developmental experience designed with goal setting and reflection every day.

Describe a typical day of work for you.

  • 7:00 a.m. - Breakfast and daily goal setting
  • 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m - Medical clinics in rural farmworker communities
  • 6:00 p.m. - Dinner and reflection
  • 7:00 p.m. - 9 p.m. - Workshops (Sutures, Injections, Pharmacology, Natural Medicines) or community engagement activities, such as dancing, soccer, or arts/music at the coffee shop.
  • Weekend Cultural Activities: Horseback riding, coffee tour, waterfall repel, ziplining, hang gliding, riverside cooking, hot springs, spa night, and/or dancing lessons

How have you watched the organization evolve since you began your job?

It has grown rapidly. We had our first pilot team in the summer of 2014. But in 2017 we had sixteen teams! Our goal is to have Global Health Teams and internships year-round by 2018.

What does ISL do to continue meeting the ever-changing needs of participants?

While we have set quality standards, the actual service remains flexible and reactive to opportunities and lessons learned. We serve real people, real families, real communities. Nothing is static. We are solid in our learning principles and risk management standards. But, we adjust our activities based on opportunities and concerns either forecasted or experiencing daily. Plus, we work closely with our participating faculty who have the opportunity to seek out experiences that directly complement their classroom curriculum.

Global health volunteer in Colombia
Most Global Health Team hold their medical clinics at small rural school houses.

If you could join one ISL program anywhere in the world, which one would you choose and why?

Colombia!  But Colombia is so beautiful and its people so uplifting in spirit. I am so fortunate to be able to run teams in one of the most beautiful, most interesting, and most friendly places in the world. To explore and host people in the diverse setting that Colombia provides is a dream role for me which I cherish. Come visit our team!

What is the most rewarding part about your job?

It is a privilege to facilitate a life-learning experience for our volunteer students. I know that I do my job well, our participants will be truly wiser future health professionals with empathy and understanding of their power to make a difference in people’s lives. I cherish this responsibility and look forward to it with every new team’s arrival. My genuine hope is that these individuals will always look back at their time in Colombia as one of their most memorable of their lives.  I see myself as their “Tio” and they as family visiting our home and community.