GLA Group Travel Manager Tim has trekked in Nepal, gone kitesurfing in Zanzibar, volunteered at Mother Theresa's mission in India and worked in the educational travel space since he was just a college student. These days, he’s our go-to guy when it comes to Group Travel—connecting schools with opportunities to take their learning outside the classroom and into the world.
Along the way, Tim has gained a few insights on what makes international service-learning different from simply volunteering, and how to get comfortable when you’re far outside your comfort zone. We had the pleasure of speaking with Tim about his endeavors and hearing some of his best travel stories. Read the highlights below!
NAME: Tim Easley
ROLE AT GLA: Manager, GLA Group Travel
JOINED GLA: Summer 2012 as a Mentor for Tanzania: Heart & Soul. Currently serves as GLA Group Travel Manager.
SOCIAL MEDIA: @navigatingtheworld14
ON HIS TRAVEL PLAYLIST: Dave Matthews Band, Thievery Corporation, The Beatles, Beirut
The "Aha!" moment that inspired you to work in student travel:
"If there was one moment, it would probably be when I returned to India after college. My parents ran an international philanthropy when I was a child, and we lived in India for a little while. As a result, giving, serving and caring for the less fortunate was always a part of my thinking. On my return trip to India as a young adult, I found my way to Mother Theresa’s mission and worked there for a few months. It was a profound moment in my life to be serving people completely selflessly, from sunup to beyond sundown.
The human-centered work at the mission taught me that we can impact change. We can share our hearts with people. Maybe we’re not putting up a new school everyday, or building a new bridge… maybe we’re just holding someone’s hand, or getting a tired nun a glass of water. That’s serving another person. I saw the power of that at a young age.
I also studied Outdoor Education and Cultural Anthropology, led trips for high school students when I was in college and joined AmeriCorps. My brother was an expedition guide on Mount Rainier and Denali. A lot of factors put me on the trajectory to traveling, leading immersive programs and working in experiential education."
Tim on a service-learning program at an elementary school in Tanzania
Favorite travel memory:
"My all-time favorite travel memory takes place in southern India during monsoon season, with my two brothers and our good friend. We had just arrived at a guesthouse on the beach after riding mopeds for thirty miles in monsoon weather. We showed up with no food, and the shops around us were closed.
My brother saw a man walking up the beach with four huge red snappers. We approached him and asked to buy some of his fish. He shook his head “no," but then did the unexpected... He invited us to dinner instead! This man took us—four strangers—into his home, and his wife, himself and his two daughters cooked an amazing meal of red snapper, curry, rice, vegetables, naan and chapati. We sat on his back porch and watched the tide roll in, the monsoon rains and the sunset right over the Indian Ocean. We stayed until midnight, played cards, sang The Beatles, learned Indian dances and had an incredible time with a stranger. He gave us food when he had none, and never asked for anything in return. In fact, it seemed like the joy of his week, or maybe his month, to invite unexpected guests into his home."
Tim traveling in India in 2005
On going with the flow while traveling:
"When I travel abroad on my own personal trips, I don’t plan much. [Laughs] I generally will have a short list of places and things I have to see and do. But how I get there, where I stay, what I eat and everything in between doesn’t really matter because it all falls into place. Personally, my lack of planning is how I end up having these amazing experiences, meeting the people I meet, and connecting with them. In my own experience people have always helped me: They drive me to places, give me directions, point me in the direction of the guesthouse I’m looking for."
Advice on how to have your own off-the-beaten-path adventure:
"I personally steer clear of resorts and all-inclusive, self-contained spaces, where people are generally trying to recreate their comfort zones. Travel, for me, is all about breaking down my comfort zone and getting far away from it. I do everything I can to put myself in situations to be with the local people. Whether that means riding the chicken bus in Costa Rica or the third-class train in India, or taking the dory up the Varanasi River rather than the luxury tourist cruise.
Traveling for a physical pursuit in the outdoors is a great way in general to unplug, experience more remote or little-known destinations and get off the beaten path. Trekking in Nepal, kite-surfing in Zanzibar—my personal travel objectives generally involve some sort of physical pursuit in the outdoors."
Tim at the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro
Current travel playlist:
Next destination on your bucket list:
"Next on my list for personal travel is Namibia—Southwest Africa. I want to go to the Skeleton Coast and see Sossusvlei. My dad, who’s currently completing his bucket list item of visiting every country in the world, hasn’t visited Namibia yet so we’re planning to meet there next year, if I can get the time off. [Laughs] Namibia and Botswana are places where the natural world is still very easy to observe in its untouched state. Everything is a wee bit more wild."
Tim visiting the Maasai tribes
On the difference between "volunteering" and "service-learning":
"We’ve all heard the term 'volunteer,' but 'volunteering' and 'service-learning' are two different things. Volunteering is just one component of serving a community, whereas service-learning is the full-circle approach. Service-learning combines both your head and your heart—infusing charitable intentions with critical thinking. It involves asking the important questions: What are you helping? Why? What’s the purpose of your service? And how are you going to address the issues that you’re trying to address? We try to shape all our programs at GLA around these conversations.
In service-learning, it’s critical that the person going to serve engages with those being served, and that both parties come up with a plan together. Regardless of whether students go for two weeks, three weeks, six months or ten years, it’s going to be a progressive experience. When a GLA student goes on one of our service-learning programs, he or she is not the same person on Day 1 as he or she is on Day 14."
On the safety of traveling in the modern world:
"I think there’s always something to be afraid of in the world. Whether that’s a cliff, or a spider, or a person from another country or culture. But the thing that strikes me about fear is that you look back at how silly you were when you overcome that fear. Overwhelmingly, in my own experience, if I have a fear of a certain place, a certain culture, a certain part of the world, I’ve always looked back at my fear and chuckled. Because when I go and actually experience the people there, when I’m evidently welcomed into society, I realize that everywhere in the world, we all really want the same thing: Friends and family who love us. The feeling of security. A roof over our heads. Food to eat and clean water.
When you keep travel on a human level, there’s really nothing to be afraid of. When you see it through a political lens, or put it on a religious level, an 'us and them' platform—I’m from inside this border and you’re from outside this border—that’s not a human thing. Remember that travel is mostly about human-to-human interactions, and I promise there are very rarely situations where fear becomes legitimate."
Remember that travel is mostly about human-to-human interactions, and I promise there are very rarely situations where fear becomes legitimate.
Tim beatboxing with local teens in the Dominican Republic
Advice for young, globally-minded people today:
"Growth begins at the edge of your comfort zone."
"As soon as you travel, you’ll see your own world outlook change. And once that change happens, you can never unchange yourself."
"There’s always time to work later. There’s always time to study more later. There’s always time to go to that concert or festival. The musician will be back, I promise."
Thanks, Tim! To see more of Tim’s adventures, follow him at @navigatingtheworld14.
To explore service-learning opportunities for your school, church or other student group, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit groups.experiencegla.com.