Sara Dorsey - Teach Abroad Programs Senior Manager
Sara graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in geography, with study abroad stints in both Costa Rica, London, and on board Semester at Sea. Four short months after graduating with her undergraduate degree, she hopped on a plane to live in Seoul, Korea for a year teaching English and traveling around Asia. Sara has been working at Greenheart Travel in Chicago for over five years, but she makes sure to use her passport at least once a year!
How did you get connected with Greenheart Travel?
After I taught English in South Korea, I decided to move back to my roots in the Midwest of the U.S. Upon arriving in Chicago, I knew I wanted to stay involved in the world of cultural exchange, after having had such a transformative experience in Korea. I found Greenheart Travel and instantly knew I had to work here! The mission, programs, and general feel of the company was right up my alley so I applied for an internship in the teach abroad department. The person I interviewed with (and is now my boss) did Semester at Sea also, so we hit it off right away! I started as an intern and then was hired on full time later that year.
You spent time studying abroad in Costa Rica as well as throughout more than a dozen other countries with Semester at Sea. How do these experiences help you in your day-to-day work with Greenheart Travel?
Studying abroad in college was the best decision I’ve ever made. Being forced out of my comfort zone (a lovely college town called Madison) and into a country I had never been to before was terrifying, but I almost became addicted to it. Having had these experiences helps me relate to people going through the same life choices and fear when it comes to participating in programs like study abroad or teaching English abroad. I know it can be scary; people might be telling you it’s a bad decision for your career or it doesn’t fit into what you majored in in college, but I am also proof and a resource that it’s absolutely worth it and worth your time.
How did your own international experiences shape your career aspirations?
I know this might sound cheesy, but living internationally has made me so hungry for more peace in the world, and that has really shaped my career aspirations. Traveling makes you awaken to other cultures and realize that we’re all more similar than we think we are. I truly believe that if every person in the world were able to travel abroad extensively, or live in other countries, this would be a much more peaceful world.
Programs like ours aren’t going to be the single motivator in creating world peace, but I do love having a career that is working towards that ideal, and helping to shatter stereotypes and create real change in the world.
Your own experience teaching abroad in South Korea is one of the things that inspired you to make a career out of inspiring others to go abroad. How do you help teach abroad program participants understand that power of teaching abroad?
I am upfront and honest with participants about just how challenging it’s going to be, but also how much it’s going to change them. Being able to live by yourself in a big city in Asia (or anywhere) makes you feel like you can do anything. It’s such a powerful feeling to know you did that, on your own!
What does a typical day of work look like for you?
A lot of my day is spent talking to soon-to-be teachers and alumni. I manage our two biggest programs, Teach in Thailand and Teach in Colombia, as well as our Teach in Myanmar program, so at any given time I have a lot of people gearing up to leave their home countries. Moving abroad can be a scary thing, so I make sure I’m available to answer any questions anyone has.
I also am responsible for managing a lot of the logistics, like visa paperwork, flight confirmations, documentation for job placement, etc., and I also host monthly (sometimes weekly) webinars with upcoming teachers, to make sure everyone feels as comfortable as possible about their upcoming transition abroad.
How do you support participants through every step of the process?
I always try to respond to any email within 24 hours of getting it. No question is too small or silly, so I encourage my participants to reach out to me with anything they can possibly think of. I also make sure everyone is connected with one another beforehand, and with alumni of the program, so they feel like all their questions and concerns are answered. I host webinars that are focused on culture shock and adjustment, so that our teachers are well prepared for the craziness they might be feeling when they first arrive. Overall, it’s just about making sure everyone feels empowered and reassured that they can do this, by making sure they have every little piece of information I can possibly think of.
What sets Greenheart Travel’s teaching programs apart from other programs out there?
We set expectations honestly and thoroughly, as much as possible. We’re not going to tell you that Thailand is going to be “the best time ever,” because in reality you’re going to have some hard days. Yes, Thailand is paradise and you’re going to have a life-changing experience, but you’re not going on a vacation. You’re going to have amazing days, but you’re also going to struggle sometimes.
We try and prepare our teachers as much as possible for the realities of living abroad, and we don’t sugar coat things just to get you to sign up. The worst thing someone can do is have unrealistic expectations about moving abroad, because they are almost always disappointed. We have all been through moving abroad before, and we are committed to making sure our teachers are well-prepared and have the right expectations for the adventure they’re embarking on.
How do you define cultural exchange?
To me, cultural exchange is one of the most important things out there in the world today. The more people can learn about one another, whether that’s just the person down the street who grew up somewhere different than you or by living abroad somewhere that is a 180 culturally speaking, the more understanding we are going to have in the world.
How do Greenheart Travel programs promote cultural exchange?
We promote cultural exchange by offering programs that create a real immersion and a real change. We are very selective in how we choose our international partners and programs, and choose based on what and where we can offer our participants the most authentic and rewarding cultural exchange.
What do you think the best part about working for Greenheart Travel is?
Last month I was able to travel to Colombia and meet a bunch of our teachers as well as Colombians working directly with the program. Hearing from Colombian teachers and staff about the impact the program was having on the students, their lives, their motivation in life, etc. was amazing. Seeing positive change not only in our teachers lives, but also in the lives of the communities they are living in is our ultimate goal. Being able to see that the work we do has changed someone’s life is definitely the best part.