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IFF Selected for Noel November Grant

mainimage2013Each year the Fayette County Board of Realtors selects a group of nonprofits in the local area to receive grant money from their sponsored events. This year the IFF is very proud to have been selected as a grant recipient!

The first event sponsored by FCBR was Fayette Celebrity Dancers at Starr’s Mill Auditorium in May 2013. Ten local celebrities competed with dance professionals in a competition for donation dollars. The event was a great success!

On November 9, 2013,  the FCBR is sponsoring Noel November, a “celebration of trees and a tradition of giving back to the community.” Funding brought in from the event supports the IFF and we hope to see you there! Noel November encompasses fun and fulfilling activities for families and a special evening auction with dancing for adults. A full day event, the open house (free) features children’s choirs and local dance troupes performing their holiday routines from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm, along with a silent auction. Fayette’s favorite Santa will return to meet children and pose for a complimentary photo before heading back to the North Pole!

The Evening Auction (silent and live) celebrates the true spirit of giving back to the community. The beautifully decorated items are sold one at a time to the highest bidder. The doors open at 6:00 PM with holiday appetizers and there will be an open bar downstairs. Music and entertainment will be provided by local band, Pete & Pete.

The event will take place at Flat Creek Country Club in Peachtree City and the place will be decked out in festive holiday attire showcasing all the donated theme trees, wreaths, gift baskets, arrangements, and other auction items. You can check out photos of some of their items on their website, which include: An autographed guitar donated by Zac Brown, a couple trips to the Florida pan handle area, a gorgeous white Huskey puppy, and a Braves prize package. Tickets for the Evening Event are $25 in advanced and $30 at the door. They can be purchased online at www.NoelNovember.com.

We will be at the event and hope to see you there! Funding brought in will not only support the IFF but also a handful of other great non-profits in the area: Armed Forces Mission (Stand With Them Campaign), Camp Southern Ground, Fayette Pregnancy Resource Center, Fayette Youth Protection Home, and Promise Place.

YTA: Kevin Kelly in Segorbe, Spain

Kevin Kelly is our featured Young Traveler Archive this week! After finishing his Freshman year at The Westminster School in Atlanta, GA, received and IFF Scholarship to participate in an Intensive Study Abroad program in Segorbe, Spain. He was selected because of his “strong desire to improve [his] conversational Spanish skills and to experience a new culture and discover other people’s customs.” During the 3 week program he lived with a host family and attended Spanish classes each weekday. He has studied Spanish for 9 years, Latin for 3 years, and Portuguese for 1 year. In the future he hopes to study Business in college. Check out a video of his trip below!

“Studying Spanish has given me a new perspective on the Hispanic culture. I have realized how many different “types” of Spanish there are, as well as how many countries actually speak the language, I can also now communicate better with others who are from a foreign country that may need assistance.” – Kevin Kelly

Online Resources for Young Travelers


Are you thinking about traveling and need help researching information about a country or program abroad? Are you considering taking a gap year and volunteering between high school and college? Do you just love reading about going places? If you answered yes to any of these, this post is for you!

Here is a list of some great online resources you can use to plan your trip overseas. These resources have been approved and used by many travelers to help you have the best experience in another country! If you are in high school and are thinking about applying for a scholarship with the IFF you must go through a third party organization on your travels. You can click here for a list of recommended programs.

  1. Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forum – Lonely Planet makes the best guide books on the market. They are experts in all things travel – from how to do your laundry in a third world country to key survival phrases in Italian. They have a huge fan base around the world and they have created an amazing resource called the Thorn Tree Forum. It is a user-run with forum with travel advice from expert wanderers and other people like you. Ask a question, post an itinerary  or seek food recommendations on the forum and you are almsot guaranteed a helpful response with the information you need.
  2. Workaway – This is a website that facilitates free work exchange around the world. You have to pay a one-time fee to join but once you are set up you have access to posting that individuals  companies, and organizations post around the world who are looking for help. In return for going to work with them you get free board and sometimes free food. The ultimate website for those traveling on a budget.
  3. Couch Surfing – Sort of like a facebook for travelers, Couch Surfing is a community of people from all around the world who love traveling and meeting new people. The idea is fairly simple, when you are going to a new place you can look up who lives in that city on Couch Surfing. Some people will let you sleep in their spare bedroom for a few days or some will offer to meet you and show you around the city. Oftentimes while traveling it is hard to meet local people and instead you end up connecting and making friends with other international tourists. Couch surfing is a way to make local friends and get an inside look into another country. The idea of meeting up with strangers is a little daunting (at least to me) but many users are verified and have been rated and approved by many other surfers that have stayed with them and had a positive experience.
  4. WWOOF – World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms – WWOOF is an exchange program that links volunteers with organic farms all around the world. Like Workaway, there is a small fee to join the website, but once you are registered a listing of thousands of farms in different countries is available. You can contact the farms if you want to volunteer with them for a short period of time and they will host you and pay for your lodging and usually food. In return you volunteer your time and expertise to help on the farm. I know people who have done all sorts of work WWOOFing. You can help build houses to pick olives on a farm in Italy.
  5. Expedia – Everyone has their favorite website when it comes to finding cheapest airfare  While some might argue Expedia is not the best, it is the one that I keep coming back to after getting frustrated with other companies. I typically use Expedia for internal US flights or International Flight. I always feel confident that I am buying the cheapest deal. However, when it comes to internal flights in countries overseas I look for the more local budget airlines. Cheapest flight I ever bought? 30 euros from Budapest to Barcelona with WizAir (applause!) If Expedia isn’t your cup of tea, notable mention goes to Kayak.
  6. Gogobot – This website takes planning a trip to the next level. Gogobot is a social travel planning website that has an easy-to-use design and lets you search and fantasize about places you want to go around the world. The best part is the engaged travel audience. You can research a beach off the coast of Australia and you will get photos with location reviews and pointers. A good place to find recommended restaurants, hotels, and fun things to do.

I hope this list inspires you to start planning your next trip. While I was writing this I wrote down at least five new places I want to go. Happy researching.

Abroad Programs: Finding the Good


We’ve talked about the bad and we’ve talked about the ugly. Finally it is time for the good! They are hard to find and are scattered hidden amongst the bad an the ugly, but I promise they are there! Always remember this, good programs and organizations will make you feel comfortable. You know you have found gold when you talk to a company representative and they are meeting YOUR needs and are listening to the questions and comments that you have. Here are some steps to finding the perfect abroad program

  1. Do your research. How much does it cost to live in the country you want to go to? How much does a typical hotel room cost? A great place to find this information is www.lonelyplanet.com. You can look up exchange rates, find out how much ground transportation costs, and read comments from other travelers who have been there.
  2. Have an idea of the things you want to get out of your experience. Traveling is about exploring the unknown but if you have some things you definitely want to do before you come home write them down and do some more research. If you want to scuba dive how much should will that cost? Do you want to volunteer – if so what kind of volunteer work? Knowing your own expectations before you even start looking at programs will really help you. Have an idea in your mind of an acceptable price you would be willing to pay based on where you want to go.
  3. Search, search, and keep searching for programs. You can check out some abroad databases to get you started (ex: http://www.goabroad.com/) or you can just google search. Use all of the advice from the past two posts to eliminate the “bad” and the “ugly” programs and focus on finding the good ones.
  4. When I was traveling I had a revelation. If you are looking for something specific , say a soup kitchen in Rome, translate “soup kitchen” into Italian and do a search in the native language. This can get tricky because you usually find websites in other languages that you have to translate back, but it can be really helpful!
  5. Ask a friend you trust. When you think you have found a good program at at reasonable price send all the information to a friend and ask them to review it and make a list of their concerns if they have any.
  6. Talk to someone who recently participated in the same program. If you find a testimonial online try and reach out to that person individually to make sure the review is not put there by the company. Ask for other people you can talk to and try to get honest feedback about other people’s experiences.
  7. Cross your T’s and dot your I’s. Before signing anything double check flight costs, visa requirement/conditions, travel vaccines, weather, and travelers insurance. A lot of these things can raise the price a lot and they are important to consider. Some places have a terrible monsoon season and other places are very hard to get to by plane.
  8. Last but not least, buy a guidebook. Trust me, I learned the hard way. The extra weight is well worth it.

Abroad Programs: Uncovering the Ugly


One of the worst things that can happen is you fall subject to a travel scam. They are not uncommon. Many companies will have incredible websites detailing exactly what you are paying for, where you will sleep, etc… then you arrive and none of it is true. Thousands of dollars… Poof! Gone!

  1. There are plenty of warning signs. The first and most important are bad reviews. Almost all companies pay people or have employees post great reviews on travel sights so really search the corners of the world wide web to read a ton of reviews. Even if you only find one review, be weary. Try and contact the person that wrote the review. If it is a recent review I would personally look elsewhere. If it’s from a couple years back show it to the company and see if they can justify it. Maybe they have changed management since then?
  2. Go with instinct. A good company that is going to take care of you will make you feel comfortable before you leave. You should be provided with plenty of tools to make your experience enjoyable. Some of the best companies I have seen will even send “Pre-Departure” packets to participants that give you advice on what to pack, the cultural traditions of the country you are going to, and what kind of vaccines you need. If something feels off don’t pick the company and keep searching.
  3. Do a test. Ask the company for the contact information of someone who has taken the same trip you are considering within the past 6 months. If they are doing their job they should have no reason not to connect you. Try and get that person on the phone or shoot them an email and ask for an honest review of the program. You can ask other questions too… find out more about who cooks your food. Ask about accommodations – are you sleeping in a bed? Do you need a mosquito net? See how much they knew and are willing to help you.
  4. Be direct. Certain abroad programs are catered towards certain people. A lot of travel programs are really “party” programs. If you don’t want to be around people drinking then tell them your expectations. On the reverse, if this is what you are looking for then make it known. Stating your expectations upfront can save you a lot of trouble in the end.

Volunteering Solutions is an example of a company that looks like a scam. Here is their website: http://www.volunteeringsolutions.com/

And here are two reviews.



The reason why I recommend talking to someone who recently did the same program that you are considering is because some organizations might not be scams but they still might not live up to the talk they have on their website.

I volunteered for a few months in Madagascar and one of the biggest problems was the constant staff turnaround. Every couple weeks a new member of staff would arrive and it would take time for them to acclimate to the new environment and figure out the ropes. Frequent internal changes can make for unstable programs. You might have a good experience or you might not depending on the time you go. In these cases the best thing you can do is ASK QUESTIONS.

Abroad Programs: Eliminating the Bad


Here is a true story…

Last year I volunteered for 1 month in Kolkata, India with Mother Teresa’s organization called the Missionaries of Charity. I traveled independently and stayed in a hotel called the Monica House. The hotel cost 300 rupees a day (about $5 USD) with a large breakfast included in the price. It didn’t cost me anything to volunteer with the organization. Public transportation to get to my work site cost about 10 rupees a day (18 cents) and my typical meal for dinner was anywhere from 50-200 rupees. On a day that I splurged I spent $10 dollars at most and for the whole month it probably cost about $350.

One day I was scrubbing clothes at the volunteer site and I recognized a few American accents. I got into a conversation with a girl working that day who was in Kolkata on a study abroad program through her university. I don’t remember the name of her school or the program abroad but I do remember that she was paying $13,000 dollars to stay in India for 5 months!!! The organization she traveled with had an itinerary laid out. She took 2 or 3 classes at a nearby university (only one however was actually going to count as transfer credit back home) and during the day her job was to volunteer with the Missionaries of Charity, a FREE organization to work with. I remember standing next to her thinking that aside from the few classes she was taking, there was very little difference between us. She probably did have a much nicer place to sleep and ate western meals, but STILL. We were doing the same work each day and I was paying literally 7.5 times less than her.

To be honest, I met a lot of people abroad who were paying a ridiculous amount of money through an organization to live in a poor country where you can survive with almost no money. Traveling alone, I usually felt like I was having more meaningful cultural experiences anyways. I didn’t have a set plan outlined by an organization to visit historic sites and travel with the same tour guides that many other paying individuals used before. Instead I was cracking open my lonely planet guide book and exploring little coffee shops, shopping at unique side street markets, and making friends with people that I never would have met otherwise. So this finally leads me to the topic of this post. How can you tell the difference between a good and bad abroad program? Do they even exist?

I have good news. YES they do exist! The next few blog posts are going to discuss organizations that epitomize the bad, the ugly, and the good.

The Bad

There are many large abroad organizations that I believe are a rip offs. I don’t want to discredit any companies or their employees – I’m sure they are wonderful and I have actually read amazing reviews from people who travel with these organizations. But that doesn’t change the fact that they charge exorbitant amounts of money to go to countries that just do not cost that much. Here is an example of a company, Cross Cultural Solutions, that I believe charges too much: http://www.crossculturalsolutions.org/discover-what-you-can-do/dates-fees-availability.

To take a one week trip the estimate cost is $2480. For a 12 weeks trip the cost jumps to $8948. Keep in mind that this DOES NOT include air transportation or free time activites which adds another couple thousand at least. CCS adds a disclaimer that participants are not paying to volunteer. They are paying “for the assurance of living in a safe and comfortable Home-Base; an opportunity to be completely immersed in a warm and welcoming community, and to find the family that you never knew you had.” I could not agree with this statement more. What you are paying for is security and safety when you are going to a country and environment that is new territory and sometimes daunting. But does that security cost around 8000 dollars? You are paying for customer service. The hotels you will stay at will cost NOTHING close to that amount and you are not paying to volunteer. Your volunteer activities will usually not cost a company anything to organize (aside from their employees). Even the private chauffers you will have that pick you up from the airport and drive you everywhere will probably only paid the local price – I don’t want to make up numbers but in India I would pay around $4 for an hour-long private taxi ride.

Most large abroad organizations charge comparable amounts. The fact is that a trip to India simply does not cost that much. Living in the western world it is easy to justify the cost –  when you actually go and realize how much money the company is making off your program fees it is a lot harder to justify.

YTA: Jasmine Jackson-Irwin – The Year Alone

IMG_1768“I, like many other millennial children, dreamed of travelling the world at an early age. We so often studied different cultures, histories, and languages; however, they remained distant and almost imaginary within our myopic American setting.

Over the course of my adolescence, I accrued numerous stamps within my passport thanks to parents and educators who held international travel in high regard. Although I imagined a future abroad (eventually), I never considered relocating before I became a “grown up.” This time-sensitive outlook clearly reflects an arbitrary designation of “oh, I’ll get to that eventually!” Or, more appropriately, “That seems really scary and too different.”

In January 2009 I received an unexpected e-mail: a family friend contacted my parents to offer me a homestay in Dresden, Germany for one year. The news took me entirely by surprise, but left a strange feeling of curiosity. What if I did go? What would it be like? I would have to delay beginning college; would I be behind? What would my friends think? These questions, all seemingly illogical in retrospect, plagued me for almost three months.

Soon enough, acceptance (and rejection) letters poured into my mailbox. I found myself disappointed after rejection from my top-choice university and thought, “Maybe leaving for the year is the change I need to start over.”

The first three months in Dresden left me in flux between elation and frustration. By September, I felt adjusted. By October, I was conversational in German. By November, my mind finally settled on my experience. I’m here… I’m here for a while. The moment in which I finally realized that this “trip” was not a vacation, rather a life transition, changed me to the core.

I struggled for many weeks afterwards that determining what my purpose would be while abroad. Given my professional work environment at my government internship, as well as the age of my host-siblings, I failed to establish a social network with strong friendships. Socializing remained even more limited by the fact that, although I was proficient in German, it remained a foreign language, with certain cultural and linguistic nuances that only ease with time.


Sometime in January, I recall a conversation with my parents in which they said something along the lines of, “You need to get through whatever it is holding you back; otherwise, this experience will never be what you need it to be.” At the time, those words stung. I was suddenly overwhelmed by a sense of failure—I had limited myself for so long because I let outside influences control and determine my experience.

From that point on, I promised to start living for myself. I made a point to spend more time alone, consciously crafting the experience I sought to have over the remaining seven months. Instead of sitting at home wondering how I could do things alone, I simply went out and did things. Suddenly my cautious and over-analytical approach to living vanished. More importantly, the concern of whether or not I was alone seemed inconsequential. Me, myself, and I made the best company for any endeavor. It sounds selfish, and somewhat confusing at first; but I quickly learned that this time alone would strengthen the foundation of my person more than any other experience could.

I discovered that the uniqueness of my favorite activities heightened when I did them alone. Concerts became more intimate, like a private performance for only me. Food became more intricate; I could pay closer attention to taste without the distraction of mealtime conversation. Most importantly, travel became more introspective and adventurous; uninhibited by the needs and wants of anyone else, I drifted from place to place having only the experience that I wanted.

Within seven months, I discovered more about myself than I did in almost 19 years of life. While wading through challenges, and encouraging myself to break free of expectations, I gained a sense of self. Moreover, for the first time in my life, I understood, and embodied, what it meant to feel confident. I trusted in my ability to live happily and create unique experiences for myself. I understood to a greater degree what aspects of life drove my passions, or “raison d’être” as the French would say. All skepticism in my abilities or aspirations vanished; I was certain that my drive and tenacity would see me to any goal.

Most importantly, I learned how to fail. As an often high-strung and driven high school student, I feared not succeeding at (or perfecting) every activity I undertook. Living alone forces you into a constant state of vulnerability, which, albeit terrifying, heightens your fortitude and encourages risk-taking. I realized over time that making mistakes is not wrong, but important and healthy for personal growth. It is through these risks and failures that we learn our abilities, and discover ways to improve ourselves.

I returned from my gap year fully recharged and prepared for another momentous life change: starting college. The first few weeks of transition—a large campus, 20,000 undergraduates, ostensibly never ending free time—left many of peers bewildered. However, I embraced the change and viewed it as a chance for discovery. Much like my arrival in Germany, college marked an opportunity to start anew. My newfound independence and confidence left me feeling prepared and excited for the newest phase of life.

In that year abroad, I learned the true meaning of happiness. Of course there were moments of frustration, loneliness, or anger; but are those not simply a ubiquitous element of life? The distinction lies in learning to transform those moments of futility into moments of growth and introspection. By learning from mistakes and struggles, we come to fully understand the lifestyles changes necessary to live happily. I recall having dinner with a friend who had not seen me since the previous summer. He paused mid-conversation and said, “I dont know what it is, but something has changed. You have a glow and inner-strength that I have never seen before.” His comments took me by surprise; but I knew that for him to say that, I had done something right.

I affectionately refer to my year in Germany as “my year alone.” For some reason, that seems more foreign than living abroad.”

Jasmine currently studies Political Science and German Language & Literature at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (Class of 2014). At UNC, she is a member of Gappl: UNC’s Gap Year People, and works extensively with the Global Gap Year Fellowship. http://campus-y.unc.edu/get-involved/global-programs/gap-year. Her non-academic interests include music (listening and creating), travel (nearby and far away), adventurous eating (more often successfully than not), and being outside (preferably on a beach or in the mountains, but nowhere in between.)

Two Weeks Left to Apply for a 2013 IFF Scholarship!


The countdown has begun! If you are going to apply for an 2013 scholarship you have 15 days left before the application closes! To apply for the scholarships you need to know of a program or third-party organization that you want to travel through. You can win a scholarship to fund your abroad experience with an exchange program, a church organization, or a school summer educational experience. If you are high school and want to go abroad but don’t know where to go Click Here for ideas on programs and opportunities that we support and know are reliable.

You can download our application and read more about the requirements and process here. Remember that we must have received your application online or in the mail BEFORE the deadline on March 15, 2013. We cannot accept any applications we receive after this date.

If you have any last minute questions we encourage you to contact us at info@iffscholarships.org so we can answer them before it’s too late to apply! If you have submitted your application and are waiting to find out the winners, we will announce them the first week of April. Each year we have a Scholarship Review Committee not affiliated with anyone who works with the IFF that will read your application and select the winners!

Good luck to everyone and we are very excited to award our second round of scholarships this year!


Story of the IFF – Part 1 (Inspiration)


I still remember the moment I decided to start a non-profit. I was standing outside the admissions office at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a college visit. I was a junior in high school and I wanted to do something important. I wanted to give back in a way that was long lasting and would help other people. I kept brainstorming causes and ideas I was passionate about. Work with the homeless? Start a community thrift shop? Nothing was really clicking until I remembered my trip the previous summer in France.

“That’s it!” I told myself. “Build international friendships!”

When I told my mom I was going to start a non-profit she didn’t think I was crazy (some of my ideas have been crazier) but I could sense her hesitation. I could feel the question behind her voice,

“Can she actually do it?”

I thought about starting a high school club but I wanted my venture to be sustainable. I didn’t want to pass it down to someone else in a year when I graduated, instead I wanted to stay involved and watch it grow. The initial stages were hard and I’m going to write a “Part 2” post about the logistics behind starting a 501(c)3 non-profit when you’re 17, but for now I want to focus on the inspiration that fueled my fire.

In the beginning days I kept a journal to document my thoughts. Here is a quote from one of my first entries:

“What do I want the IFF to accomplish? I want to promote events that wil teach today’s youth about the cultural differences in other countries. This will shape global leaders who have expanded views of the world and can build friendships with people in other countries. Every year I would like to help the development of friendships between Americans and interational students through the foundation. While the IFF will “kickstart” these friendships, we will create strong friendships that grow on their own through adulthood. These friendships will become resources both parties can turn to for connections and suport in their ventures. On our webiste there will be a “Friendship” page that exhibits brief articles about the friendships created through the IFF with pictures. The IFF will help form these friendship by offering scholarships to high school students wisihg to study abroad but do not have the financial resources. Ideally we wil give out three $1,000 dollar scholarships to our winners.”

This quote was a starting point for the idea that would evolve into the IFF as it is today. When I began advocating for international friendship I had only traveled to France once. Because of that experience overseas I decided to accept a fellowship from UNC to take a service-based gap year after high school. I deferred my enrollment to college and spent one year volunteering around the world. Taking a gap year was the best decision I have made in my entire life and only made me more passionate about building international friendships.

How has traveling changed me and why do I believe so strongly in experiencing other cultures? Here is a list of reasons I came up with that have inspired me to continue traveling and fighting for others to have their own abroad experiences.

  1. Traveling builds self confidence. I want high school students to go abroad because I believe it will make them better people in the future. They will have new experiences that might be challenging or tough but will build their self confidence to deal with problems they face in their lives – social problems, academic problems, and personal problems. When you get back from a trip you literally feel on top of the world.
  2. Through traveling students will learn how to get along with people who are different from them. Not just a little different – a whole new world kind of different. This is an important skill because one of the most challenging things in a work environment,  in a family, and in a classroom is learning to work with people who are different from you and having the patience to understand them. Traveling puts you in uncomfortable situations with people who encourage you to see things from another viewpoint.
  3. Going abroad teaches you to adapt. Adaptation is a skill often overlooked, but never underestimate it’s importance! It goes hand-and-hand with survival and can get you through almost anything. Being able to adapt and handle the curve balls life throws at you with ease will prove invaluable. If you lose your job one day and only have enough money to get you through the next month, how will you survive? If you miss your train and don’t know how to get to your hotel that night in a country where everyone speaks Chinese, how will you survive? Traveling teaches you to think outside of the box and stay motivated to adapt to the unexpected and reach the next destination.
  4.  Connections, connections, and connections. Anyone can tell you that life isn’t about what you know, but about who you know. Getting out into the world opens a number of doors. If you nurture and develop some of the friendships you make, they will help you in the future.
  5. More then anything, I think the inspiration for the IFF came from my belief that international friendships are among the rarest and most fulfilling. The beauty of an experience you have with someone overseas is that you share a moment, day, week, or month together and face new experiences side-by-side that can never be replicated. You were both completely present in the moment – listening, watching, and understanding the new culture around you. Together you let those experiences move you and you feel a bond that is unbreakable. You will say goodbye and take different paths in life but you will both always remember…