Traveling and studying abroad has the ability to change and transform a person’s life and create more cross-cultural understanding. In today’s world, it is critical that we understand other cultures, and there is no better time to experience the transformative power of travel than when you are young and impressionable. Unfortunately, travel is expensive and usually only available to those who have the money to pay for it. This results in an entire segment of the world’s population who are denied the transformative experiences of seeing and exploring new places, and is especially true when it comes to teens and young adults. Organizations like FLYTE are trying to change the game and empower more youth to see the world.
Founded in 2015 by the New York Times Bestselling travel author, Matthew Kepnes of the website Nomadic Matt, FLYTE is a nonprofit organization that empowers students living in underserved communities through transformative travel experiences.
I was able to speak with FLYTE to learn more about how they are empowering youth to take FLYTE and experience the world. Here is what Matt has to say.
Why More Students Should Tale FLYTE and Travel Abroad
By Matt Kepnes (Founder of FLYTE) and Carmela Resuma (Executive Director, FLYTE)
As travel enthusiasts, we all understand the power of travel. It’s one of the most impactful educational tools that changes perspectives. It breaks down borders, fosters empathy, and makes us realize how connected we all are.
As a former high school history teacher, I know the value of an education. I understand that I am privileged enough to be able to travel the world and do what I want because of getting a good education. Not everyone gets that chance. Let’s face it: Not everyone is able to travel. Whether it’s money, family obligations, or circumstance, travel is out of reach for a large percentage of the world’s population. Most people never even leave their own state let alone the country (only 35% of Americans have a passport!).
This is especially true for students in underserved communities – from inner city Chicago to the middle-of-nowhere Idaho. These students – in communities and from families with limited resources – don’t get a chance to expand their worldview, meet people from other cultures, and bring what they learn in the classroom to life!
That is why in 2015, I created FLYTE. While many wealthy school districts send students on overseas educational trips, schools and teachers in underserved areas have little or no opportunity to offer their students these experiences. Their schools and communities lack the resources to make such a trip happen. I wanted to create an organization which was open to everyone around the country. I wanted an organization that helped people in forgotten parts of the United States because everyone deserves a chance to see and learn about the world!
At FLYTE, we empower youth living in underserved communities through transformative travel experiences. We provide teachers and students with the planning and funding they need to take what they learn in the classroom and put it to use in the real world!
Since our founding in 2015, we’ve sent three of the most incredible groups of students abroad. On our first trip, BEST Academy from Atlanta, GA, traveled to Merida, Mexico, where they volunteered at Renacer de Mayab, learned about the Mayan civilization, and swam in cenotes. In Summer 2016, Anacostia High School from Washington, DC spent a week in Cuba, explored Havana, learned about sustainable farming in Vinales, met with local artists, and studied the Cuban Revolution. Last year, FLYTE partnered with Excelsior Academy from Newburgh, NY. These students visited Quito, Ecuador and they volunteered at Casa Victoria, where they supported their after school program, taught robotics, and brought books to start a library. They also traveled outside the city to the equator and learned about sustainable agricultural practices at Hosteria San Isidro.
Students from Montana are heading to Guatemala this June with FLYTE
This year we’re excited to be working with Victor School from Victor, Montana.
With a total K-12 student population of 300 students, Victor School is a tight knit community in rural Montana, about 45 miles south of Missoula. Lindsey Egelston, the teacher who will be leading this trip explains that in Victor, “poverty is high, and higher education levels are low, and many of our students’ families struggle to make ends meet.” In June, FLYTE will send them to Guatemala where they’ll navigate the cobblestone streets of Antigua, explore the villages along Lake Atitlan, ignite their taste buds at the Chichicastenango market, and volunteer at local non-profit organizations.
As expected, travel opportunities for these students are limited. The significance of this trip for them was articulated so profoundly by Lindsey, their teacher, in her application. She writes that “with the current state of affairs in our country and the world, where immigration, xenophobia, and racism are constant and very real topics, I find myself called even more so to the duty of education as a means of understanding how to be a compassionate and engaged citizen.”
How the FLYTE Program works
Our FLYTE Team selected this school after a long and rigorous application process. In the fall, we work with our school networks to launch our search. Teachers from all over the country are eligible to apply, but as we want this opportunity to benefit students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to travel, the schools we select have a high percentage of students that receive free or reduced price lunch. Once teachers apply, we narrow the pool down to a handful of final applicants, that then fill out a second, more detailed, application, and our selection committee has a phone interview with the teacher. Then the real tough part happens when we have to pick just one school. It’s always such a challenging choice since we get so many deserving and inspiring applications every year. This is why we’re really boosting our fundraising efforts this year, so we can start sending multiple groups of students on trips in 2019!
FLYTE funds all the costs associated with the trip including flights, accommodations, food, passports and vaccines. What sets us apart from other similar-missioned organization is that many of them have pre-set itineraries, but we want the teacher and students to determine their itinerary so that the pre- & post-trip curriculum can blend seamlessly into the whole travel experience. If needed, we provide them with the tools they need to learn how to plan a sustainable and cost-effective trip. We also require that schools fundraise a nominal amount to cover the costs of the student’s spending money while they are on the trip, and FLYTE provides them the tools to help facilitate that process. As part of this partnership, we also ask schools to perform at least one service-oriented project during the trip and/or once they return to give back to their communities. Lastly, if costs allow, FLYTE can also send someone from our team to provide on the ground support during the trip.
For the past 3 years, FLYTE has been funded by the overwhelming support of over 1,300 individual donors. Matt also contributes a lump sum donation as well, but the generosity of our donors keeps us going. This year we’ve launched a couple exciting fundraising initiatives. First, we started our FLYTE Crew Monthly Giving program. Having a sustainable and predictable stream of monthly donors allows us to plan better and give us the financial boost we need to send more groups of students abroad. In addition, we’re piloting a peer to peer fundraising campaign with a team of dedicated travel bloggers. After learning from this effort, we plan to initiate this program for all our donors and supporters.
Our theory of change is that these travel experience will transform the lives of the students we serve. These trips allow our students to see the world and discover their power to change it for the better.
The initial results of FLYTE’s impact
While we have a couple more years to assess our long term impact, the initial results are promising. Take Kaleb. He travelled on our first FLYTE trip to Merida, Mexico in March 2016 with BEST Academy, an all boys high school in Atlanta, Georgia. Kaleb graduated high school and is now a Sophomore at Depauw University pursuing a double major in Political Science and Africana Studies. Recently Kaleb travelled again to South Africa, and was recently accepted to a study abroad program in the Netherlands.
In his own words, “Traveling internationally better informed me not only as a young adult, but as a global citizen. The experiences I have had traveling internationally during high school made me more competitive when applying for college and expanded my social consciousness. I can say that I now am more willing to interact with people of diverse backgrounds.”
You can read more about Kaleb in his FLYTE alumni profile.
This is the heart of our work right here, our students. As we grow, our main goal is to serve more and more of these young people. This is not just a chance to send a group of students on a trip, it’s an opportunity to break down barriers, fight prejudices and foster empathy and connectedness during these times of fear and division by showing these youth the diversity of people and experiences our world has to offer
We know how much fear can blind us and manipulate how we act, think, and perceive those different from us, but travel helps us see beyond our borders – both geographical and mental – and become more compassionate global citizens.
It is our hope that this information inspires you to get involved by joining our FLYTE Crew, following us on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), or simply spreading our goals of empowerment through travel to people you know who’d connect with our mission. At FLYTE, we’re bridging the gap between fear and understanding. We are empowering the next generation of changemakers by connecting them to the world. We’d love for you to join our growing community of supporters and be part of this global movement.
FLYTE is a nonprofit organization that empowers students living in underserved communities through transformative travel experiences. Today’s education system provides very little in the way of global education, and many struggling schools and teachers have little or no opportunity to offer their students access to resources that can provide any type of experiential international education.
FLYTE was founded in 2015 by the New York Times Bestselling travel author, Matthew Kepnes. His website, Nomadic Matt, is one of the most popular website for budget travelers. Growing up in Boston, Matt didn’t take his first trip overseas until he was 23. That trip changed the course of his entire life. He returned from his trip, quit his job, and in July of 2006, set out on an adventure around the world. He’s been traveling ever since, and has dedicated his efforts to helping people realize their travel dreams and make them a reality. Realizing that so many students never get to experience the transformative experience of travel, he founded FLYTE.
The Foundation for Learning and Youth Travel Education (FLYTE) is a nonprofit organization that empowers students living in underserved communities through transformative travel experiences. Today’s education system provides very little in the way of global education, and many struggling schools and teachers have little or no opportunity to offer their students access to resources that can provide any type of experiential international education. FLYTE was created to change that.
At FLYTE, we believe that through these global experiences, students will be encouraged to explore and develop their understanding of the world and foster a sense of possibility in the them. We to inspire students to seek new experiences, encourages them to engage as global citizens, and instills in them the idea that the world is so much bigger than the community from which you come. To learn more, visit www.takeflyte.org