GoAbroad Interview

Kyle Trebotich - Director

Kyle Trebotich - Director

From cycling through Morocco to driving solo across the border to Mexico, Kyle is no stranger to travel and has a wanderlust that can’t ever seem to be satisfied. He was exposed to new cultures at an early age, having spent four formative years in grade school in Hong Kong. From then on he kept bouncing around, earning his BA in economics in London, and after a few years back in the States, his MBA in Monterrey, Mexico. Equally important in planning his next trip is the mode of transportation. He has sailed from Miami to the Panama Canal on a container ship, logged countless foreign miles on his bike, and soaked up the terrain travelling by bus throughout Mexico. Happy to call Chicago home, Kyle spends his domestic time cycling, playing tennis, and enjoying great food.

From attending grade school in Hong Kong, to sailing across the Gulf of México, to cycling through Morocco, how did you end up working for Greenheart Travel in Chicago?

That’s a bit of a story, but I’ll give it a good shot to shorten it down. I moved to Chicago after getting my MBA in Mexico (which, by the way, were some of the best years of my life). I chose Chicago because my sister was here, I had good friends here, and it's a fantastic city!

Sunrise over Bagan temples, Myanmar
Atop a temple in Bagan, Myanmar at sunrise.

My goal moving from Mexico was to find a gig with a strong focus in international business that would afford me all kinds of opportunity to travel. I also wanted to keep up my Spanish at work. Before getting my MBA I worked for a giant international shipping company, and I was hoping to find job with similar global reach.

It was a long haul finding that kind of work. I hopped around a few different jobs before landing at Greenheart Travel. I worked sales strategy in the super glamorous industry of janitorial supply distribution and another job in corporate international relocation (basically helping executives move their families overseas). I stumbled across Greenheart Travel at an event at a language school where I was continuing my Spanish lessons, I networked the heck out of that room, but there were no openings.

About a year later, my position opened up on a website focused on non-profit jobs and I applied for it. Through persistent follow up and a rigorous interview process I landed my dream gig! It’s been over two years now, on par with my two years in Mexico in terms of impact on my life.

How would you say travel has impacted your own life?

Traveling around the world, from Thailand, to Colombia to the UK to Morocco, the biggest impact I’ve had is the realization that we are more similar than we are dissimilar. People around the world are out there living their lives just like you and me. Husbands and wives are at the grocery store trying to decide what to cook for dinner, friends are joking around at happy hour after a long work week, kids are grumbling about having to do their homework when they’d rather watch cartoons.

There are fundamental values of the human condition that transcend cultural and geographic barriers, but there are cultural nuances that make anyone’s approach to those values unique and interesting.

That, to me, is really exciting. For example, I can travel to any country in the world and know that sharing a meal with family and friends is important. I can plop myself down in conversation with that foundation of commonality between our two cultures. When I realize that the meal being shared is roasted goat and folks eat with their hands? Far out! I get to celebrate that culture’s unique approach to the everyday ritual of a meal.

Foreign teachers in Medellin, Colombia
Kyle and teachers on our Colombia program overlooking Medellin from a school.

You earned your bachelor’s degree in London and your master’s degree in México. How have your experiences as an international student helped you in your role with Greenheart Travel?

I would say that those experiences have really helped me to prove to our teachers, volunteers, and students that our organization values the experience of the people that work here. We have all had similar experiences and we are an organization that practices what it preaches.

Using Mexico as an example specifically: I drove to Monterrey all the way from Charlotte, North Carolina, barely knowing two words of Spanish. I know what it's like to feel completely lost, especially without having the language under your belt, and how much of a champion you are when you finally feel like you belong.

I have been in our travelers’ shoes and I always have those feelings at the forefront of my mind when considering new partnerships, designing facilitated exchange curriculum, responding to concerns about safety, etc.

Greenheart Travel’s tagline is “Travel for a Change.” How are participants “changed” through traveling with Greenheart?

You only need to look as far as our blog to find that answer directly from our travelers themselves. We’re proud to have our blog authored in majority by our alumni. Travel, through any organization or solo, is massively impactful, but what makes going through Greenheart Travel so special is we emphasize the opportunity for personal, professional, and cultural development. We guide and train all travelers before, during, and after their time abroad to ensure that they get ample support from us and have all the tools they need for meaningful reflection upon their experiences.

In your opinion, what is green travel? What does it take to be a green traveler?

I think that the first thing that comes to everyone’s mind is being respectful of the environment in which you are. Don’t throw trash, don’t waste food, don’t etch your name in a rock at a park, etc. The Boy Scout policy of leaving a campsite cleaner than when you arrived always applies well.

What’s even more interesting is being aware of the environment and how it might define the local culture or way of life. For example, why would a siesta be a tradition in a culture? Are people “lazy” or is it more likely that it’s just too dang hot to get anything done in the middle of the afternoon? Could the siesta and the heat be why dinner is so late in the evening?

It is a fun exercise to try to put cultural norms in the context of the surrounding environment. The key is to be aware of it and ask locals what they think!

Students at a conference at the U.S. Department of State
Kyle (bottom right) at the U.S. Department of State with a cohort of students from the Greenheart Global Leaders Conference.

What sets Greenheart Travel apart from other program providers who offer similar programs?

I alluded to it above, but I believe the biggest difference is the amount of care and attention we put into each person’s experience, from the time they apply to well after they return. Every one of us here at Greenheart Travel has lived/worked/traveled abroad for an extended period of time. We know intimately the roller coaster of stress/excitement/confusion/elation that people go through when considering and committing to traveling abroad. What we do best is guide people through that whether they are totally green to traveling or have a double-thick passport. That is not to say that we hold hands, but we provide you with all of the tools, resources and attention to be your own person abroad and make the best of your experience for yourself.

People who go through Greenheart Travel are better prepared, more capable of navigating cultural differences, have richer experiences, and ultimately return with higher self-confidence than people who travel abroad in any other way.

How do you continue to make Greenheart Travel a leader in the industry?

We listen and respond to our participants. Full stop. We stay ahead of the game because we put our folks before program fees, before “business”. We’re a mission-driven non-profit. Although we have to stay healthy as an organization, our first priority is supporting a positive, impactful cultural exchange experience for everyone that travels abroad with us. Even before people commit to a program, we provide them with many different forums to voice an opinion, concern, or question. You can reach us and experienced alumni of our programs through private Facebook groups, Instagram, Snapchat, email, or a phone call (no, you will not get a machine!).

What do you enjoy most about working for Greenheart Travel?

Hope, Lauren, Jill, Sara, Kara, Savannah, Amber, Megan, Chase, Grant, Jess, and, my boss, Daniel. I’m not going to lie, there are plenty of cultural exchange organizations out there, but, hands down, we have the coolest crew to work with and I wouldn’t trade ‘em. When you work with a team that consistently hangs out after work to geek out on online geography quizzes, or shares YouTube videos with screaming goats superimposed over pop songs, you know you’ve got some good folks. When that same group of people comes together to streamline our application process, improve programs for our travelers, and generally get stuff done, it’s magic.

Exploring the Atlas Mountains in Morocco by bike
Conquering the Atlas Mountains in Morocco by bike!

Is there anything new we should keep an eye out for in 2017? New programs or locations perhaps?

We’ve a lot of Spanish speaking destinations, but we’re expanding our French programs to Quebec City. We’ll be accepting applications soon to our “Teach in a Homestay program” in Russia. I’m personally interested in exploring programs in Mexico, but nothing solid yet.

Our Marketing Manager, Jill, would kill me if I didn’t plug our awesome new website about to be launched in the coming weeks!