Welcome to our newest member – ALT Experience Russia
Tell us your story. How did ALT Experience Russia get started?
My journey started back in 2002 with my trip to the US as part of the Work and Travel programme when I was still a student. I had already travelled quite a bit before the trip, but that summer completely turned my life around. It was exactly at that moment when I realised the difference between a typical tourist vacation and an international exchange programme that allows you not only to travel to but also live for some time in the country of your destination. I saw what a great number of benefits can be obtained by taking part in such a programme, varying from priceless life experience to certain professional skills and knowledge which can be successfully used in one´s life.
Programmes like W&T USA have the ability to broaden the horizons of your mind. If we tried to transfer this concept into real life situations, I would ask you to imagine going to the library your whole life any time you had to find any information and then suddenly being given access to the internet (and therefore access to all the information in the world within your device). That summer turned out to be quite fascinating but challenging at the same time as I experienced some work-related problems, during the first month precisely. I saw a variety of opportunities both for participants and professionals working in the sphere of exchange programs.
As soon as I got back home, I started helping other students find employers in the US and get job offers for them, I conducted seminars on life in America and working in American universities. Three years after participating in the programme I founded/created ALT, received accreditation from the United States Embassy and started recruiting participants of exchange programs. As of now, ALT is one of the leading forces in the outbound market of youth travel on the territory of the Russian Federation.
We send dozens of participants to dozens of countries within different programs that can be divided into the following categories: Internships, W&T, Au Pair, Language Travel and Higher Education. But 2011 brought us a great deal of stress and hardship as the new regulations of the W&T USA program limited the number of participants that could be accepted to the program, which is usually called “Cap”. At that moment we were already in the top ten of largest recruiters in Russia and had about 20 representatives in all parts of Russia. The implemented limitations allowed us to keep one office but did not give any room for development. We had to change the situation somehow.
The solution to the problem was unexpected. One day during lunch I shared this problem (of outbound limitations) with my father and he replied, ¨Why don´t you accept foreign participants here in Russia? ¨. The question left me speechless and thinking. But after a while I received a letter from one of our J-1 sponsor partners with an offer to select/find host families for Americans who want to delve into the culture of our country while teaching English. That’s how we became the first company in Russia to implement/carry out Language Homestay and later the Teach in School and Camp programs.
What makes ALT Experience Russia different from your competitors?
I guess the biggest difference is that we develop our own programs and others try to copy from us. When you are the first one to create something new on the market, you must commit entirely to focusing on details and development in order to do your best and not let down your partners. For instance, when for the first time we were preparing a job offer for an English teacher, who needed to be officially employed on the territory of the Russian Federation, we spent tons of hours on working with lawyers, the language school and Federal Migration Service analysing everything from document flow to tax take for the school. This is programme development. And we are continuing to research, optimise the programs for our partners and create new products. When you invest your time and other resources into development, copying is just not enough to be ahead. Just think about iPhone and its clones. Secondly, and it mostly concerns Language Homestay, we have the widest variety of families in corners of our country, families that went through the screening procedure and are motivated to become a real family to the participant and give them all the care and warmth they need.
What is your favourite success story from your organisation?
Our participants give fascinating stories on a regular basis. One of the most outstanding stories is the story of a 73-year-old American woman who came to stay with one of our families in the Moscow region last month and got involved not only into cultural but educational activities of our country. She was invited to conduct a masterclass in English in one of local general education schools which was shown in a news report on TV. Personally, our first participant is still the most memorable for which I have two reasons.
Firstly, he was the first one.
Secondly, this participant went not to Moscow but to the toughest cities of our country – Chelyabinsk. It is a heavy industrial city hidden far in Siberia, it is freezing cold there especially in winter. Its location and reputation are considered to be quite severe, even by Siberians. There’s even a related joke: Chelyabinsk men prefer to use sandpaper when going to the restroom. But in fact, everything went nice and smooth for the participant, and such was the feedback that we got from the family: ¨Saying that it was the best experience of learning English is saying nothing. When you realise that your interlocutor does not speak Russian at all, you understand that it’s a whole new academic level. And the feeling when you start getting his jokes, especially the one that can’t be translated into Russian, is impossible to describe¨.
The full google translation version of the article is available here
What can we expect to see from ALT Experience Russia in the future?
Today our portfolio and set of programmes includes the following categories of travellers:
- Language Homestay – for a wide range of travellers from different countries willing to understand Russian from the inside.
- Paid Teach in School – for professional teachers.
- Teach in School as Assistant – for interns.
- Camp Russia – for the youth willing to spend their summer in Russia combining the useful with the pleasant.
We don’t limit ourselves only to English-speaking countries, however most of our programmes require a good command of the English language. We are planning to focus on the products that we already have in order to provide more benefits to our participants and make the programmes more available.
How do you work to ensure the health and safety of young travellers involved with ALT Experience Russia?
For those who live with our host families, the safety starts with the family selection procedure. We use an especially thorough approach during this process, as around 90% of the participant´s impressions as well as the aforementioned safety depend on it. Based on the participant´s preferences, we choose for them the most suitable family from those who had already been selected. For example, we place an Australian biker with a family of Russian bikers. An experienced coordinator is assigned to each participant and is always ready to help solve any problem during the course of the program. Medical insurance is also an essential part of any of our programs.
What was your motivation to join WYSE Travel Confederation?
We want to open a doorway into Russia for our current and potential partners. Our country is large and unique with friendly people; however, it is minimally represented in the industry, which is not fair.
Membership: WYSE Travel Confederation Full Member
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