GoAbroad Interview

Rachel McMillan - Program Advisor

Headshot photo of rachel mcmillan

Sharing the mission and passion of Projects Abroad, Rachel entered the organization out of the pure excitement of helping individuals experience the world. Since 2010, Rachel has helped students prepare and participate in Projects Abroad programs around the world.

Helping with renovation work in Nepal.
Helping with renovation work in Nepal.

What does your role with Projects Abroad entail?

Normally I am a fulltime Program Advisor in the Projects Abroad office in New York, but this last summer I spent three months in Nepal as a coordinator on the Care and Community High School Special program. It is based in Kathmandu and includes a weekend trip to Chitwan National Park. 

How did you become involved with Projects Abroad?

I majored in International Studies in university with a minor in French and studied abroad in Senegal, so a job as a Program Advisor here at Projects Abroad felt like the perfect fit for me given my background and interests. 

What three words best describe Projects Abroad?

Flexible, exciting, eye-opening.

What makes Projects Abroad stand apart from other international education programs across the world?

We have amazing full-time staff support on the ground. There is a dedicated team to support volunteers at any time, and we really foster a tight-knit community of volunteers when they are overseas with us.

What do participants need to know before joining Projects Abroad’s program in Nepal?

Before going to Nepal, volunteers should understand that they need to dress conservatively, they should bring bug spray, and they should read up about Nepal so they can be even more excited about going there!

Differences in culture often get the best of even the best travelers. How do you help your participants immerse in the local culture effectively?

We advise them to be open and refrain from passing judgment, but we also remind them that homesickness and culture shock are real and it can affect anyone. We encourage volunteers to recognize feelings of homesickness and culture shock and come up with positive strategies to combat this, as differences in culture can undoubtedly be challenging, but overcoming them and embracing the exchange is what going abroad is all about.

What is the first thing participants do when they arrive at a project location?

We meet them at the airport, help them get settled and contact home, and introduce them to our local staff, their host family, and their placement. The first couple of days can be when it’s hardest to adapt, so we want to help ease this transition and help our volunteers feel as welcome as possible.

What is a typical day like at placement for program participants of the Care & Community Project you coordinated in Nepal for a few months?

On a Care and Community project they’ll eat breakfast around 8:00 a.m., travel to their school, and do some light construction work or paint murals on the walls in the morning. There is a break for a – delicious! – Nepalese lunch, and then they’ll spend time working with the children playing games, reading, playing instruments, or doing sports in the afternoons. 

Security is a common concern in all abroad programs. How do you help ensure the safety of participants in Projects Abroad programs?

We have a team of full-time, directly-employed staff in country, dedicated to supporting our volunteers at any time they need us. We show them around the area where they will be living and working, make sure they know how to contact us, check in with them regularly, and have built an excellent and welcoming community of host families and placement partners who are all invested in looking out for our volunteers.

What is the most important thing Projects Abroad program participants bring home with them?

Ideally they have gotten to know another culture and gained an appreciation for understanding other people, and they want to continue to learn more about and help others in our world.

What are your goals for Projects Abroad programs over the next few months?

We hope to continue working with passionate volunteers and help match them with programs that will further open their minds and hearts to other people, cultures, and ways of living. We believe all young people should take some time to volunteer abroad and we hope this will be the norm soon!