GoAbroad Interview

Polli-Jo Moryl - Director

Polli-Jo Moryl - Director of Federation EIL

Polli-Jo Moryl is Director of the worldwide network of the Experiment in International Living (Federation EIL), a non-profit membership association which facilitates and promotes the work of its autonomous member organisations in 23 countries. As a former university exchange student herself, Polli knows first-hand the power of exchange programs as a means to promote intercultural understanding. And she believes strongly in the fact that intercultural experiences are an important part of lifelong learning that bring huge benefits at any age.

The Director of Federation EIL on a four month sailing adventure with her family.
Polli on a four month sailing adventure with her family.

Reading through your LinkedIn profile it takes about a second to realize you are super woman who has worn many hats from hospitality management to coffee roaster. What makes your “hat” as Director of Federation EIL special?

Oh thank you! I especially appreciate the way it combines a mission that I believe in with a great many of my skills- from public relations to member services to meeting planning.

You and your husband completed a self lead coffee tour of Central America before founding a wholesale coffee roasting bakery. Where was the best cup of coffee you had on that journey? 

Interestingly enough, Central America had very little appreciation for just how special their coffee was at the time. Isn’t it funny to be someplace and know that it is special and yet, the people there are so humble? The best coffee I had on that trip was from a tiny coffee roaster in Antigua, Guatemala. He let me roast coffee with him and I completely messed it up by pouring all the unroasted green coffee beans into the bin with his roasted coffee. I stayed and picked each one out – I wanted to cry.

Federation EIL does several unique activities that take volunteers to the next level of becoming global leaders such as The First Forum for Youth and Volunteerism in the Middle East and North Africa or advanced courses for social entrepreneurship. How do you determine the focus of these programs?

The focus is really determined by the individual organization and their Director. So many of the Federation Directors are truly leaders in their field – and just so forward thinking! I am often inspired by their progressive insights.

Federation EIL really focuses on the “experiment” portion of the name. What makes living abroad an experiment? How do you know if it’s been successful?

When you go out of your comfort zone it is always an Experiment! When you extend yourself personally, so that you may know another person IN their culture and context – it is an Experiment. We strive to build peace through understanding. I believe that by establishing personal relationships with each other we greatly improve the chances for growth rather than for conflict.

If you were to participate in one of your programs, which would you choose?

Oh really, do I have to choose one? I would head immediately to Morocco to work on women’s rights or to Turkey to work in an animal shelter there or to Ecuador to work in the schools. The problem is there are so many places to go and great things to do, I can’t choose one.

You work only with specially selected non-profits around the world. What makes an organization stand out to you as an entity you should work with?

We want to work with organizations that are mission driven, that focus on Intercultural Competencies and safety. We welcome new partnerships that are based on mutual respect, professionalism, and dedication to the important work that we do. FEIL organizations are actively seeking new organizations to develop meaningful partnerships with.

What are three characteristics of the ideal participant?

The best participants are: open minded, willing to extend themselves, and excited.

If you could guarantee one priceless piece of knowledge for each of your participants, what would it be?

It would be the knowledge that people are people. No matter where they live, or what they believe, or what their house looks like. Once you see a stranger as a person, it is hard to let hate or fear prevail.

You offer programs around the world for youth and adults. What would you say to someone who is a little older and thinks their opportunities for travel have passed?

Personally, I hope not. I have big travel plans for the future! I would say to them that increasingly we are getting inquiries from older people, people with experience who want to travel and contribute. Our volunteer programs are seeing quite a few people who are on sabbatical or retired, getting out in the world and sharing their wealth of knowledge and experience. I look forward to meeting you out in this big glorious world of ours! You don’t have to be a teenager to travel.

What would you say to a high school student who doesn’t see a reason to pursue an international opportunity?

I would say, “You don’t want to miss this special time. This is a moment when you can throw the door open and embrace the world without fear and without judgement – go for it!” On a practical level, I would say that increasingly, research is demonstrating that colleges and future employers view study abroad in a VERY positive and powerful way.

What is next for Federation EIL? Any new programs or opportunities on the horizon?

We are in the middle of an energetic Strategic Planning Process and I am on pins and needles waiting to see what our group comes up with. We are comprised of 23 autonomous national organizations from around the world. Since 1932, we have been leaders in this field. I can’t wait to see what we come up with next! We will keep you posted.