Barb Holdridge was intrigued when her good friend recommended a new type of travel.  But, she didn’t know she’d also catch the volunteering abroad “bug” so quickly! Sixteen years and 10 trips later,  Barb says that international volunteer travel is “the” way to learn from local people, build long lasting friendships, and have fun while doing something meaningful. In this interview with Marketing Assistant Millie Pinakoulaki, Barb reflects on her four trips each to Poland and the Cook Islands, and her programs in Greece and Italy.


What got the ball rolling for you in 2003?

My friend Kenita Gibbins found Global Volunteers and invited me to go to Poland with her in the spring of 2003.  We had a wonderful experience there teaching conversational English to Polish students. Kenita and I enjoyed it so much we went back to Poland in the spring 2005, returning with our husbands in 2007 and 2009. Poland is a wonderful place to serve and travel. After four times in Poland, I can say that the program itself is great; you get the opportunity to build connections with the children there while you interact and build friendship with your teammates. I have always enjoyed working with the students. Great fun! The leadership is also amazing. Dorota, the Poland Country Manager, is for sure one of my reasons for returning. Gracious, knowledgeable, efficient, caring, a most enjoyable and gifted team leader. I have told many people about the program and the excellent leadership.

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Barb practiced language skills with young Polish children, helping them improve their English understanding and communication.

If you enjoy Poland so much, how did you decide to branch out to the Cook Islands, Italy and Greece?

After my superb experience in Poland I got curious about the Cook Islands Global Volunteers service program, so I volunteered that fall – in 2003.  The school we worked in was wonderful, with a very enthusiastic staff! I enjoyed that so much I returned for 3 more years, 2004, 2005 and 2006. In that regard, I think I missed my calling!  I should have been a teacher at Te Uki Ou School!

There’s nothing I enjoyed more than my reading class in the hut by the sea in the Cook Islands.  It happened by accident one day.  We were told there would be testing in the library, and could we find another place for our reading?  One student was quick to suggest the hut!  What a perfect spot!  The students carried out the reading bin with all the folders.  I sat on my sandals with the bin between my legs for a desk and my back resting against the wall.  Quite comfy and such a beautiful view; a perfect place to sit and read.  Every so often one of my students would playfully sneak behind me with a “boo” just to see if they could scare me.  I always gave them a jump!

“There is nothing I enjoyed more than my reading class in the hut by the sea.”

Greece and Italy came really naturally as a decision when I was still on my first service in Poland. I met Cynthia Ladd on my first Poland trip – she was part of the volunteer team – and we had such a great fun together, that we decided to accompany each other on our volunteer adventures. So after Poland, we decided to travel to Italy, so this is where we ended up in 2004.  In talking with her Cynthia mentioned she would like to go to Greece. Greece was also a country appealing to me. So we planned together and spent two weeks with Global Volunteers in Crete, teaching conversational English to Primary School students.

“I met Cynthia Ladd on my first Poland trip, she was part of the volunteer’s team, and we had such a great fun together, that we decided to accompany each other on our volunteer adventures.”

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Barb with her young students in the Cook Islands. In all her programs, Barb helped students attain confidence and fluency in English.

What do you think you’ve learned from working with people in other cultures?

I have learned so much from my experiences, about people and other ways of life – from their openness and generosity to true friendships. Working hand in hand with local people helped me broadened my awareness in what is happening in the places I have visited with Global Volunteers. It gives a different perspective of how things work and an in depth understanding of the people in different countries. It is always fun to visit and learn some of the basic pleasantries of their language, such as Please and Thank you!!! I have always enjoyed it.

“I have learned so much from my experiences, about people and other ways of life – from their openness and generosity to true friendships.”

Barb and a student in their reading “reading hut.”

How has volunteering enhanced your life?

Volunteering has made my life more interesting, and it’s been a good topic of conversation with others, as I’ve met some of the people that live in these places. Working in a team of volunteers helps you build a network of like-minded people, who share the same passion and respect for people and life. I have recommended Global Volunteers to many people I have met over the years, and I still do. The work that Global Volunteers is doing in all countries that I visited is amazing. It is up to the hands of the people who served with the organization to continue its mission, promote good will and the respect of other cultures, while also learning from each other.

“The work that Global Volunteers is doing in all countries that I visited is amazing. It is up to the hands of the people who served with the organization to continue its mission, promote good will and the respect of other cultures, while also learning from each other.”

Are you a Global Volunteers alumnus? Do good, share your story and let family and friends live an experience like yours. Wondering how? Organize a presentation, refer a friend or become a social media representative. Learn more here! You never know how a simple action can change someone else’s life. 

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