About two years ago, at age 63, I realized it was time to create a meaningful retirement plan. My 30+ year, very rewarding career in sales and management was winding down. My pension was set so I was lucky that I had flexibility.
Retire? But to what? I don’t play golf, crochet, play bridge or enjoy any of those interests my friends do. I adore my grandson and family, but they are 1,200 miles away so a weekend four or five times a year is the best I can do.
Travel, the outdoors, healthy endeavors and children are my passions. In 2013 I started to work on a plan for the next phase of life. The goal was for it be meaningful and rewarding.
I surfed the internet looking for travel ideas, cost-effective options and different ways that volunteering would be mutually beneficial with my interests, skills and passions. My good friend bought me a book on volunteer travel. In my free time I read, analyzed and sifted through websites, books and talked with colleagues and friends.
I narrowed down the volunteer organizations to those that had places I’d like to go and involved my interest in helping young people. I called each group, asked lots of questions and, most important, asked for email addresses of people who had traveled with them. That, I thought, would be the best way to learn about the pluses and minuses of a program.
During my last two years of full time employment, I traveled to Crete, Greece with Global Volunteers, a non-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The trip was wonderful. I worked with the Morfosi school, an after school program that helps students practice conversational English. The location is breathtaking. The students are energetic and genuinely interested in learning. There was ample free time to enjoy museums, archaeological sites and traditional dining. I worked with a team of volunteers who have similar goals and interests so I also made friends.
After I returned from my second trip (2015) even more enthusiastic than the first, I decided to look into some options to enhance my skills. Since many GV service program center around working with students on English, I researched courses that might give me some tips and new skills. There are some online courses in “TEFL” and Eckerd College, here in town, offers a four-week, day program through Via Lingua that qualifies you in some countries to teach English as a second language. I’m not planning to move to China or anywhere else, but think it would be useful to pick up some solid tips on teaching English as a second language and the more I learn the more impact I can have on the students.
My third trip with Global Volunteers Crete program was in October 2016 and it was my best experience to date. Why? After three trips to the same island, I’m familiar with the local bus service to comfortably get around. I know the best spots for an espresso, spanakopita (spinach pie) and a cool drink beach-side.
The students remember me and their warmth is exhilarating. It’s a joy to watch them mature from year to year and improve their skills. When I was leaving this year they hugged me and said we hope to see you next year. By going back to the same program, I’m building meaningful relationships. I stay in touch with a handful of the students all year round via social media. I’ve made friends with the teacher and her family and am invited for coffee on the weekend with her friends.
My very generous boss wanted to throw me a retirement party. I suggested he instead make a donation on my behalf to Global Volunteers for future trips, and he did!
In January 2017, my first month of official retirement, I took a trip to Cuba, also with Global Volunteers. Along with nineteen other volunteers, ranging in age from 30-78 I spent s week on various work projects that included painting a fence, visiting with seniors at a care center and working with students on conversational English after school. The beauty of this trip was we stayed in guest houses with locals (private room/bath etc) in the neighborhood of Miramar. This was a short fifteen minute ride from Havana. Put simply, this was a wonderful authentic experience in a country that most Americans know little about as it has been off limits for most of our lives. There was ample free time to visit museums, art galleries and experience the wonderful Cuban music/dance. Some of us even went to the famed “Tropicana” show!
I am happy to report I’m executing my retirement plan exactly as I had planned!
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