* Prices may differ from that shown
i-to-i is a company that offers volunteering trips, gap years, the chance to teach english (for money and on a voluntary basis) and to simply just travel.
* Background Info *
i-to-i have been sending people to on projects worldwide since 1996. They are the original volunteer travel company and have a client base of 20,000 happy former volunteers to prove it.
* The Concept *
i-to-i is for those who want to travel, volunteer, take up a challenge, gain experience or just to simply see the world. They will organise your project, accommodation and board, depending on the project you decide upon and even give you advice on how to make the most of it.
* Variety *
There is alot of variety in what you can do, see and acheive when choosing a programme with i-to-i. There are usually a number of opportunities in each country that you can do. Countries include:
India, China, Jamaica, Hondura, Peru, Uganda, Thailand, Cambodia, Australia, Costa Rica, Canada. Projects you can take part in include: volunteering, tours, adventures, group travel, challenges and teaching. There is sure to be something for everyone.
* Support *
When you sign up to a project, you get sent an information pack to include an i-to-i tshirt, tips on how to raise your funds and even a packing list. This also includes a personalised letter according to your project and country, letting you know of any vaccinations you may need. There is an i-to-i representative who lives in the country you have your programme so you always feel safe and always have someone who can help you if you ever come into any bother. When you arrive your i-to-i rep gives you details of local customs, what to do in certain situations and what never to do.
This is not a cheap company to travel with, but they are pretty good at what they do. I think I paid approximately £2400.00 including my £600 return flight for my 12 week DR experience. This included airport pick-up, accommodation, lunch and dinner daily. Of course, alongside all of this you got very expert advice and someone to plan all of this for you. I would say in the long run, definately worth every penny.
=============== My Experience ===================
Dominican Republic, Conservation of Ecological Centre
1st May - 26th July 2006 (12 weeks)
During my second year of university, i had to have a placement of 6 weeks in a tourism environment (my degree is in Tourism Management). All my friends were getting placements in travel agents, local tourism councils and some were going abroad with the university programme. I didnt have a clue what I wanted to do, where I was going to do it, how I was going to do it and time was running out.
I decided I wanted to go abroad, as this module was during the last six weeks of uni and could carry on through summer if an opportunity had risen. As part of the module, you were not allowed to get paid and you had to write a reflctive assignment on what you learnt and how you learnt it.
I first found i-to-i online and got very excited from reading the prospects that I could be getting up to in the summer. I decided to talk to my 'Work Based Learning' Tutor, which would have had to be run by her anyway. She said that i-to-i were a very reputable company and recommended that I went with the company if I wanted to go abroad.
I knew my project had to be something within the tourism industry and one of the countries that I could go to was Domincain Republic. Dominican Republic - in the CARIBBEAN! Of course I was going to choose to go there and I thought why not do 12 weeks! So thats what i did. I paid my deposit and was sent an information pack, which included an i-to-i t-shirt and loads of advice and tips. I was told I needed certain vaccinations, so I got those sorted and got my malaria tablets.
So, came the 1st May and I arrived in the DR, there was a guy holding my name up. I have never had this before. Before you know it, I was in the drivers car and I arrived at the guest house. This is where all of the other volunteers in Santo Domingo stayed. These volunteers all taught english to the local school and orphange. I went one day with them and was totally smitten. I was based in Punta Cana (4 hours coach away), which I travelled to after 3 days in Santo Domingo. Our induction was fun. The i-to-i rep, Masielle showed us around and took us to a Merengue class, where we had a dance lesson with some local teenagers. A few days after the induction I made tracks to Punta Cana via coach.
When I arrived in Punta Cana I was met by Elsa - she was kind of my rep in Punta Cana, and also my landlady! She was lovely, she made me call her Mama Elsa and at times Id pluck her eyebrows hehe! :)
Anyways each day I would get the Sitrabapu bus to my project as advised by Mama Elsa. The project was well run and I felt like I helped alot. Some days I worked on the beach aswell!
I came to the Dominican Republic not speaking a word of Spanish, not even hola (believe it or not), now I was able to speak reasonably well, not fluent of course but enough to get by. I had made so many friends, I'd lost count. I'd partied so hard with the locals that they all knew my name. I had an absolutely amazing time. I learnt so much about their culture and so much about myself. It does make you think when you see people less better off than yourself but so much happier! I think regardless of whether you go with i-to-i or not everybody needs an experience like mine.
My 12 weeks had come to an end and I was so so pleased I done this project. Did I pass my assignment? Just about! I was having too much fun!
After university I wanted to escape for a year, yet having been a poor student for 3 years needed a way to earn money whilst travelling. I found i-to-i on a serach engine when looking for work opportunities abroad. They offer online TEFL courses leading to work abroad, gap year opportunities and volunteer work.
Immediately my eye was drawn to the promise of studying how and when you want, being able to do it in just a few weeks, and having help get paid work in the country of your choice - from their list of course - for up to a year. Ideal!
(*My review is based on my experiences of doing the online TEFL course, and being placed in a job by i-to-i. Prices are correct on 14/08/09)
I chose the online option, having already had some classroom experience, and this being slightly cheaper and it appeared less hassle. Their courses range of the 40hr basic course (£175) to the 120 hr super-duper course (£350) with extra grammar sessions, extra specialised modules and a 20hr weekend classroom course. They offer a free taster course, to show users what the online TEFL is like and can offer you.
At the time I did this there were fewer options available, and due to uni commits I decided to opt for the 60 hr course, covering all grammar areas, main issues for teaching (behaviour, classroom activities, learning strategies...) and added on the "Young Learners" module.
After registering, I was sent login details so I could access all the online resources and forums i-to-i offer. The course is split into units. You do them one at a time, completing small tasks online as you go, and completing a final bigger task at the end of each unit. These are submitted online, and you then wait until your "tutor" (a TEFL teacher, usually situated abroad) has checked your progress in that module, deemed it ok, emailed you feedback and okayed you moving on to the next.
Although in theory you can work through the modules at your own pace, when you finish each one you then need to wait for your tutor's approval before you can move on - most tutors are pretty speedy, as mine was, however there were times I had to wait a number of days before she could check my work, which was slightly frustrating.
I found the online program easy to understand and well presented. There were online tutorials and videos, showing both good and bad examples of teaching. It offered helpful suggestions and advice, with links to other useful websites. Alongside this, i-to-i had a forum for it's users in which you could discuss the modules with current and past students. You were also able to talk with people who were currently teaching abroad in the countries i-to-i offered.
At the time, all I saw was a TEFL qualification without fully understanding what that meant. For teaching in South Korea they were more interested in my degree than anything else. Since returning, my online TEFL isn't recognised for most TEFL jobs - a CELTA or DELTA are required for most jobs here. If you are interested in doing an i-to-i course, but also wanting to teach long-term in Europe, I would recommend doing one of the courses that include a weekend classroom course.
When I did my online TEFL, i had a deal which included my online course and the promise of a placement in the country I chose. I knew I wanted to be away for a year, needed to be somewhere I could save some money, and wanted to go somewhere new, so after looking at pay and conditions, I opted for South Korea. The wedsite offered information about the sort of conditions you could expect (pay, holiday time, length of contract etc...)
Once I had completed my TEFL course, i-to-i asked me to prepare a CV and email it to them, then I was put in touch with an agent in South Korea who organised a phone interview with a hagwon (academy) out there. I wasn't sure what to expect. At the time I was working early mornings, and due to the time difference ended up having a short phone interview at 6.30am on my walk to work. The lady asked me a few questions about my previous experience and whether I liked spicy food! A few minutes later I had a call from the current foreign teacher there, who told me about the school (whispering about some of the problems as she was being watched!) I was a little apprehensive, but about 10mins later I received a call from the agent telling me I had the job and he would email through a contract and details. I was told I would accept it because he had found it for me and I had got it. From then onwards everything was sorted out between myself and the agent, without any input from i-to-i. I called them once when sorting out my visa, and the person I spoke to actually recommended I email the agent, as he would know more about it than they did!
Using the i-to-i forum, I was able to get in touch with other people going out to the same country as I was, including someone going to the same town. It was great to have someone else to be nervous with, and also get tips form others already out there. At the time I completed the course, you still had access to the forum for 6 months from the start of your course.
You are given an agent from the country you are going to work in. They will arange your interviews and help you sort out your arrival. I only had one interview, and my agent told me to accept the job immediately. Since then I know of other people who have pushed for more interviews with different schools, and depending on your agent and the country you are going to, some have happily been given them, whilst others, like me, were told a job offer should be taken.
You are responsible for booking your flight. My agent told me one company was recommended and offered the best price, making it appear that as I was going through this course I needed to book with them - in fact, this wasn't true - he recommended me a company based in England run by Korean people he knew, and I ended up having some flight problems when it came to booking my return date.
On arrival in Korea, he picked me up at the airport, which was definately a bonus, and gave me a guide book about the country. He drove me straight to my workplace - yep after over 24 hours of planes and airports, work was exactly where i wanted to be! I was shown the building, then driven to my apartment, he let me call home on his phone to say I had arrived, then I didn't see him for 2 weeks when he dropped off another teacher.
You are expected to make you're own way back at the end of your contract. By then you know the country better and this is to give you more freedom with where you go and what you do - in reality I think it would be good to offer the option of having an agent drive you back to the airport, as you inevitably end up with an extra suitcase of newly acquired bits and bobs - never fun to lug around bus stations!!
Whilst in Korea, the English teachers at my hagwon had various problems with working conditions, holiday and getting our pay. i-to-i leave this to the agent to deal with, however during the year he stressed that we should just talk to the boss, which was getting us no where, or just ignore it. It wasn't until my final week that he came back (due to the teachers going on strike because we hadn't been paid!)
Local agents know the country and how it's work system is structured, which should be a bonus for teachers going out there for the first time. However, they are also being hired by the schools and academies in that country so are working for their best interests too - in my experience here, they were reluctant to feedback accurately to i-to-i about our experiences, and it did feel that once the TEFL course was done, i-to-i handed me over to the agent and expected them to deal with everything, whilst the agent
seemed to relinquish all responsiblity once they had got us to the school.
Of course, that is my experience with one agent, and from friends know that there are some amazing agents who are always on hand to help and do their best to offer a variety of jobs, encouraging teachers not to take the first one offered.
-good online courses
-can work at your own pace (within reason!)
-forums to talk with people doing the same course, and going to the same country as you
-tutors to commuicate with and get feedback from
-video tutorials and lessons
-variety of countries and trips offered
-met at airport by a local who can offer advice and information
-Course is only helpful to an extent
-i-to-i rely on agents to handle details once you've finished the online course
-Agents also work for the schools, so may be bias
-You might not get offered the best jobs as you're new and unexperienced - or that's what your agent might tell you!
-need to arrange own travel arrangements to get back to the airport after your contract is finished
i-to-i offer good starter TEFL courses if this is your first time going to teach abroad. I recommend going with them if it is your first trip, as you get a lot of guidance, and being met at the airport is a huge relief after such a long journey to an unfamiliar land. However, if I returned I would go independently now - there are so many jobs out there, and so many sites advertising them - you can get a more competitive salary, have more idea where you want to be located and what conditions you should expect.
i-to-i offers volunteer abroad opportunities in Africa, Asia, Australasia and Latin America.