Tammi Weed and Tracey Tooks from UPtv are November’s combined Alumni of the Month.  Tammi and Tracey took a sabbatical from work and went to Italy to volunteer to teach English.  UPtv gives time off and a financial reward to do good work, and both Tammi and Tracey really took advantage of the opportunity.  Take a look at their video above and read our interview with the network’s newest volunteers!

We like our Alumni of the Month to begin with GeoVisions’ motto, which is ‘Experiences are more important than landmarks’ – in a couple of sentences, share an experience you had on your program (or a weekend adventuring on your own) that stands out to you.

Tammi: From getting lost in the ruins of Rome to taking the train to see the awe-inspiring art in Florence to working with kids knowing that our time with them would leave a lasting impression… this trip defined the word “adventure.”

Tracey: It was toward the end of our first week with the kids. It rained that day, so all met at the center’s main office. After coming up with games for the kids that incorporated English, we spent a few moments outside. It was heartwarming to see how much the kids were trying to learn more about us. By asking their teachers to help translate, the kids were eager to know everything from what kind of pets do we have to the color of our homes in the states. Bonding with the kids was important to us, so that was my first indication that we were making great strides.
There are great travel apps out there that help you convert currency, translate words or menus and mapping apps. If you used technology abroad – what was your ‘go-to’ app or platform while traveling?

Tammi: One of my favorite apps when traveling is TripAdvisor. I use TripAdvisor for restaurant recommendations and now, for the “Travel Timeline” which keeps track of the places you’ve visited and the pictures you took while at that location which is such a cool feature! I also can’t live without Google Translate which comes in handy when English menus aren’t available. If you’re a planner and want to travel with an itinerary, check out Travefy.

Tracey: Wow, that’s a great question, but more often than not, I had to rely on Tammi. My phone constantly had connection issues and when connected, the battery was easily drained while using apps.

What would be the advantages and disadvantages of living permanently where you had your GeoVisions program?tammi

Tammi: I think the biggest advantage would be adapting to a more relaxed approach to life. I think we could all use a little “slow down” and from what I saw, Italians have mastered the art beautifully! From my observation, they were more present in the moment and with each other. They were more active, they engaged in real face-to-face conversations and didn’t seem addicted to their cell phones or their laptops!  The biggest disadvantage is the locals can spot the foreigners so there’s no pretending when it comes to fitting in!

Tracey: The advantages of Lido di Fermo was its location without a doubt. The coastal living on the Adriatic was simplistic, laid back and encouraged biking, long walks, swimming and plenty of moments to recharge as I sat near the big windows of the apartment to take in the breeze. I would also look forward to becoming fluent in Italian and the ability to travel to other cities easily by train. My disadvantages would be being away from my family. Family and friends are key elements of the culture in Fermo, so I would totally miss having mine around. I would also miss having access to many of my favorite shows on a regular basis.

What sense do you value most while traveling?

Tammi: The sense I value the most, especially when I’m in Italy is my sense of taste!

Tracey: Sight, if I had to choose one. There’s just so much to see in Italy and it’s not just limited to the landscape. I was completely inspired and encouraged by watching the generations of families that were out and about enjoying time together. I also saw a ton of active older couples on bikes, on the beach, walking and holding hands.

Describe the most interesting person you met on one of your travels.

Tammi: To get to our assignment, we took a bus from Rome to Lido Di Fermo. On the bus we met fraternal twins named Lucrezia and Davide. They moved from Italy to England for school and were returning home to see their family because their father’s house had been destroyed by the earthquake that hit the Le Marche region just a few days prior. Thankfully, their family was safe. One of the things that struck me the most about our new friends was that they moved to England for school not knowing more than a few words of English. Lucrezia and Davide explained how incredibly hard it was for them the first two years living in a foreign country and not knowing the language. At that point, I could kind of relate but my two weeks versus their two years? How very brave of them!

Tracey: There were so many, but I will mention this person because the restaurant he manages and may own, Osteria 44, was amazing! Sergio Mignanelli was one of my most interesting people because he reminded me that no matter how much one has accomplished, we all have a gift of a talent that we may be afraid to pursue. Sergio has a gracious, welcoming and infectious personality that adds to the warmth and charm of the restaurant. After taking a moment to learn about us, we learned that he has a gift of photography and writing that has been tucked away and put on the back burner. I totally get that and will be honored when he’s ready to share some of his photography and short stories. After all, we creative types have to support one another!

traceyDid you ever get lost while traveling? If so, tell us about it.

Tammi: Did we ever get lost? We got lost all of the time! Here’s what I learned: 1. GPS walking directions are absolutely unreliable. You’re better off asking locals for directions even if you don’t speak the same language. Just make sure you learn the word “where” and identify a landmark near your hotel or apartment. “Dove Ponte Vecchio?” 2. I think getting lost should be intentional. Make it a point to get lost knowing there’s no schedule to keep and no work that can’t wait. Experiences are what you make them so get lost and discover a piece of yourself you never knew existed.

Tracey: The funniest thing for me was Tammi’s GPS app which constantly changed directions. It quickly became the running joke which kept it from becoming as frustrating as it could have been.

What are your plans now that you are back home? Any great new adventures you’ll be embarking on?

Tammi: Now that I’ve been home for a few weeks and had time to reflect on the trip and my experience, I would have to say my plan is to return next year! I loved living like a local and getting to know (and learn from) people I had very little in common with. Even when it was uncomfortable knowing that I was a foreigner and the one needing help, it stretched me giving me greater patience, greater appreciation for kind strangers and a greater awareness of the world around me.

Tracey: I am literally going through my house room by room, to eliminate waste and get down to what’s essential. Among the places I stayed in Italy, they were all efficient and simple. I believe it allows the Italians freedom to appreciate life outside – inspired the art, history and sweeping landscapes while focusing on what matters most, friends, family, food and of course, great wine!