“Thato is someone that has made us more determined and grateful.” Interview with James Bell from Alliance Abroad Group
Alliance Abroad Group (AAG), winner of the Extraordinary Experience award at the 2016 Global Youth Travel Awards, has been a leader in international recruitment for over 27 years. As a U.S. Department of State-designated program sponsor for the J-1 Visa Work & Travel program, Intern/Trainee programs, and Teacher programs since 2009, Alliance Abroad Group has successfully matched more than 100,000 international students with the world’s leading tourism and hospitality companies.
In 2015 Alliance Abroad offered a paid year-long internship in the United State to the local volunteer who demonstrated excellent performance at the World Youth and Student Travel Conference (WYSTC) in Cape Town, South Africa. The winner was Thato Khasuli, a young man now working as a concierge at a luxury resort in New Hampshire. He has been learning about the hospitality industry from different angles, an experience that is affording him with a chanceto build a better future for himself and his family.
WYSE Travel Confederation talked with James Bell, President of Alliance Abroad Group about Thato’s story. We also learned more about the young volunteer recognised for outstanding performance at WYSTC in Belgrade, Serbia this year and some of the future projects of Alliance Abroad Group.
Why did you decide to offer a fully paid internship in the USA to the best WYSTC Volunteer?
WYSTC volunteers play a vital role in the smooth operation of the convention. It is an unpaid position and it can be demanding work. We wanted to provide an incentive and reward for their efforts and to recognise them for their contribution.
The reason why Thato’s story is so powerful and moving is because it serves to remind us all the real reason behind our work and the incredible impact it can make. It’s easy to get consumed in daily activities to the point where we lose sight of the outcome of our work. The principles of education, enrichment and empowerment are the real fruits of our labour. Thato is one of thousands of youths whose life has been transformed through the work we all do. It also serves to remind anyone who has a goal or dream to go after it. His story will be an inspiration to countless people.
Chosen amongst an amazing group of volunteers, this year’s winner at WYSTC in Belgrade was Vanja Djokic. What is your advice to him?
The internship award was totally unexpected to him. Vanja is really excited about the opportunity and is currently working on logistics, juggling his school and other obligations to determine when he will be able to participate. The best advice to anyone working, living or studying in a foreign country is to embrace the opportunity. It is an incredible chance to enrich your life and perspective, learn important social and life skills and make lifelong friends. Vanja and anyone like him is destined for one of the biggest adventures of their life.
What is the importance of visa programmes such as J-1 and their development for youth travel?
These programmes are extremely important. The purpose is to expose young people from different parts of the globe to one another and to new and different ideas for the purpose of enrichment and education. Travel makes the world and differences smaller. Through exposure to other countries and cultures, commonalities and new ideas are formed and stereotypes and ignorance are replaced by enlightenment. The more global citizens connect, the more we can see how truly alike we all are. The youth of today are the future of tomorrow. The more exposure they have to one another, the better the world will be.
Would you like to briefly share something about future projects of Alliance Abroad?
We’ve been successful for 27 years, but we’re going through a re-invigoration of our brand to essentially build it upon our beliefs and our passion for customer service and cultural exchange. We’ve put tremendous effort into improving our customer service platform and have invested heavily into tools to make doing business with us easier. We are infusing passion into every element of what we do, reminding ourselves of the higher purpose of what we do. Thato is someone that has made us more determined and grateful, reminding us that our work matters and has tremendous capacity to make a huge impact.
Giving back to global communities is a big focus and we’re putting more energy and resources into that. Thato’s story has inspired us to do more in South Africa. We’ve collaborated with a non-profit there that will make it possible for more students to have similar experience in the United States. We’ll continually look for ways to use our network, programs and passion to fuel more extraordinary experiences for global youths.
Learn more about Thato’s experience here.