F.A.Q. for Latitudes
Below you will find the most frequently asked questions we receive about our Latitudes program. Many of these are specific to your Focused Volunteer Placement on the second semester. We hope you'll find these entertaining and helpful.
- I'm not sure if I should apply for Latitudes or just a group semester . . . is it possible to switch if I'm enjoying myself so much?
I know, right?! A year seems like a long time to commit, but what if you're really enjoying your group semester and want the next level? We always suggest it's best - even if you're just contemplating the full year - to take the plunge. The biggest advantage to taking the plunge is the build-up to the second semester and specifically that's the orientation we do in Portland. Not only is it a blast, but it's also a very important way for students to have a personal relationship with the person that will be making their Focused Volunteer Placement. Finding that 'perfect' placement is a challenge, but it's one made many orders more difficult without a personal rapport for our staff to really challenge and support you. In times when we've done this we've been able to coordinate with phone and email, but it's a very noticeable second-best option.
If, for some reason you decide to step away from the Latitudes program then financially there is a bit of reconciling, but the payment plan for Latitudes is already arranged to happen in smaller chunks throughout the course of your first semester. We figured that not only would a plan be more palatable for the funding side of things, but also to allow for just such an option.
So, in short, we CAN make the switch from group semester to Latitudes - but it's certainly not ideal.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
- What happens if I get sick while I'm traveling alone during my second semester?
Every student, while on their second semester, will have a designated liaison in the field - this might be the head master of a school or orphanage, a language instructor, or a volunteer coordinator, but in all cases this person is your designated contact for all things urgent. We always suggest that, if you feel sick and aren't sure if it's bad, then please take the safe route and call your designated contact and ask them to facilitate getting you to the doctor. After you've gone to the doctor, you are expected to email and/or call the Carpe Diem office so we can know what's going on. Part of this step is to simply be informed, but it's also critical to have outside input from others who have been in the field to make sure that you've covered all your bases and gotten the best possible care given all the factors.
. . . knock on wood, we've never had to medically evacuate a student, but if we need to - well, then that's exactly why we have that insurance.
- Do I need international travel insurance? Can you recommend any?
Yes you do. But thankfully, Carpe Diem arranges for health insurance (and medical evacuation) for all Latitudes students for the international duration of their Latitudes year. This includes the group semester as well as the second semester.
BUT WHAT'S IT REALLY LIKE?
- What types of Volunteer Placements are there? Is that dependent on my first semester at all?
There are MANY different types of volunteer placements - working with children, in environmental conservation, on organic farms, learning a language, teaching English, and much more. Once you are accepted into the Latitudes program, we'll send you a list of possible placements - but we are flexible and happy to work with you depending on your goals, skills, and interests. Most students volunteer in developing countries in Central or South America, Asia, and Africa. However, we have placed students in Europe, Australia, New Zealand or the US. We will meet with you prior to your group semester to discuss your goals for your Latitudes year and begin to identify a possible volunteer placement. Oftentimes, however, students' experiences on their group semester influence what they want to do for their volunteer placement, so we expect to be in touch with you throughout the first semester as your goals or interests change, in order to find the best placement for you.
- Can I take time to travel on my own during my volunteer placement?
You are welcome and encouraged to travel and explore the region surrounding your volunteer placement! Oftentimes volunteers will have weekends free and use that time to take short trips. Volunteers re discouraged from taking long trips during their placements, though are encourage to travel either before or after their volunteer placement starts. We advise you to consider whether or not you will want to travel after your volunteer placement when scheduling your flights, as rebooking can be costly.
- During my second semester with Latitudes, how much access will there be to phones or internet? How will I communicate with my friends and family while I'm abroad? Can I bring a cell phone during my volunteer placement? What about my laptop?
This is dependent on your volunteer placement, and in some respects is up to you. Do you want a volunteer placement that's remote and off-the grid or do you want to be in a more urban environment? There are some placements where you might have almost daily access to internet, and others where it might be only once a month. All volunteer placements will have ways to communicate in case of emergency, but in terms of regular communication with friends and family, it is very placement dependent. While we encourage you to send your friends and family emails and postcards, it's a good idea to set realistic expectations around how frequently you will be in communication.
While not allowed during your group semester, cell phones are permitted during your volunteer placement. Before you decide to bring a cell phone however, we encourage you to look into the costs of making and receiving international calls from your current plan - we have had past students discover they had cell phone bills of up to $2,000 after only 2 weeks of travel! We also encourage you to consider WHERE your placement is. In remote areas, its likely that you wont have cell phone service, and in urban areas, internet cafes are plentiful and an inexpensive way to keep in touch. You are allowed to bring a laptop or other internet capable device, if you wish. As with anything you bring on your travels, be prepared to see broken, lost or stolen. In deciding whether you will need to bring a laptop, you might want to consider where you are going to be (Urban? Rural?), how you are going to be using it (email, photos, blogging), and how much you will be traveling before, during, or after your internship. As a general rule, the more you are moving around, the less you will want to have to carry!
- What is the Latitudes blog and who writes it?
The Latitudes blog is a place for students to share stories and photos from their volunteer placements. It's a great way to see what other students are doing as well as share your experience. While some of the PSU courses require that you post a blog, all Latitudes students are welcome to write a blog entry. To post a blog, simply email your post to either your Latitudes director or to email@example.com. You are also welcome to post photos and updates on Carpe Diem's Facebook page.
- What if I already know/have an idea about where I want to volunteer? Can I find my own volunteer placement?
If you already have an idea of an organization you'd like to volunteer with, you are encouraged to share that with your Latitudes Director. We are happy to work with contacts you already have if they seem like they would be appropriate volunteer placements. You are also welcome to do research on your own if you have ideas, or if you learn about new organizations during your group semester. Just make sure to let us know what you're thinking, and we can take steps to make sure it's an appropriate placement, as well as help coordinate logistics if needed while you are overseas.
- What if I want to change the duration of my volunteer placement? What happens if I want to change my volunteer placement?
Carpe Diem requires that students stay at their volunteer placements for a minimum of 2 months, though we recommend 3 months. Your volunteer placement is meant to be a time for you to explore a culture, language, activity or field of work in-depth, and for you to get the most out of your experience, we feel that 3 months is an ideal length of time. Additionally, many host organizations request that volunteers make a long-term commitment, in order to both justify the time and training put into preparing volunteers, and for volunteers to feel comfortable enough to be truly effective. If you need to shorten the duration of your placement for any reason, please communicate this with both your Latitudes director and your local contact. If you wish to stay longer at your placement, check with your local contact to make sure they can still accommodate you.
Carpe Diem highly discourages students from changing their volunteer placements. The first few weeks of a volunteer placement might be challenging, you might feel homesick, or feel that you made the wrong decision. Please communicate with both your local contact and your Latitudes director if this is the case. We can help you through the settling-in process and advise you on how to advocate for yourself and make your placement what you hoped it would be. In rare cases, it is appropriate for students to change their internships. This is decided on an individual basis, and the details would be worked out with your Latitudes coordinator.
- What if I change my mind and don't want to complete the second semester? What if the first semester is enough?
Very few students don't complete the second semester of their Latitudes students - in fact, the only three reasons we've had students not complete their second semester are:
- "I miss my family." The prospect of being overseas for ANOTHER 3 months is daunting.
- "I want to do another group semester!!" About 1 in 10 Latitudes students had such a great time with their group semesters that they elect to do a second group semester. While this is outside of the Latitudes arrangements, we're happy to work out a financial arrangement to make this happen.
- "DAMN! I got caught!" Yes . . . it has happened and we're not going to lie about it - but students who are caught doing drugs or drinking during their first semester sometimes decide that the commitments Carpe Diem and its partners require of them are too much, and so decide to step away entirely.
In all cases, when a student decides to step away from their Latitudes program, usually it means that there's some financial reconciling to be made - either the payments simply stop, or, a few catch up payments need to be made to balance out the switch from Latitudes to semester. We're practiced in working with parents and students to make this happen and are committed to fair and transparent accounting to make sure everyone walks away happy.
- What is CD's policy on drug and alcohol use during my volunteer placement?
During your group semester, you learned about safe and responsible travel, and the potential problems and dangers that can come from drug and alcohol use while traveling. Carpe Diem does not allow drug and alcohol use during your volunteer placement, but as you are traveling on your own, obviously we won't be there looking over your shoulder. Many times, host organizations where you will be volunteering do not allow drug and alcohol use and if you don't follow their policies, can be asked to leave your volunteer placement. Laws around drugs, especially in developing countries, can be very strict. If you are arrested for drug possession or use while abroad, there is nothing Carpe Diem, your host organization, or the US government can do to help you. (For examples of what can happen, watch the TV show Locked Up Abroad.) Overall, while we cannot control your actions, we hope that you will make smart choices, stay safe, travel responsibly, and respect the host organization and local culture.
- I have friends/family in ______ country, can I visit them? Can friends or family come visit me during my volunteer placement?
You are welcome to visit friends and family if they happen to be living in the country where you are volunteering. They can be a good source of support and a great resource if you have questions or concerns while abroad. Similarly, it can be a great experience for both you and your friends or family if they are able to come visit you in the country where you are doing your volunteer placement. That said, we recommend you plan any visits either at the beginning or end of your volunteer placement, rather than take extended breaks in the middle. The focus of your time in whichever country you chose to go should be your volunteer work.
- Why is Latitudes set up the way it is? Can I do 2 group programs? Can I just do a volunteer placement? Can I do multiple volunteer placements?
We set up Latitudes in this particular way to allow for thorough training during the first semester on the exact ins and outs to safe, independent travel. During the group semester you'll learn how to travel and the overseas staff will do a lot of work to facilitate your learning. Simple things make all the difference. For instance, if you're in India and ask "Is the hospital 'this' way?" pointing any direction ... Indians will say "yes." The simple cultural truth is that it's considered rude in many Indian regions to say "no" to a guest. For that reason, it's far better to say "Which way is the hospital?" in that way you've given them the cultural space they need to be honest. Tricks such as this, and others more specific to safety, cultural norms, budgeting, and the simple rigors of travel are all taught during the first group semester.
The second, independent semester, is dedicated to deepening your understanding of a particular place using the tools you've learned in your first semester. It's really a matter of training you how to do the job well. Think about it like this, when you join the Peace Corps, they require 2 months of intensive study, language immersion, and cultural education - we do the same thing for the same reasons.
The second semester volunteer placement is also there to help you focus on a particular area of interest you're considering as a major in college. So, if you're interested in education, for instance, then it's a great opportunity to perhaps wear the bridle of a teacher and work in a school overseas.
In rare circumstances, students will do back-to-back group semesters. In these cases we insist on students doing an increasing level of difficulty on their second semester so as to stay engaged in their process.
Unfortunately we do not do one-off volunteer placements as we don't feel comfortable placing students with unknown track records into unfamiliar situations. It's really a safety and liability thing.
- How does a LATITUDES GAP Year fit into my four-year Bachelors degree?
On the Latitudes program, students not only get the group experience, but also the chance for a focused volunteer placement that always seems to help clarify their chosen course of studies. In that way, rather than wandering without purpose throughout their first few years of schooling, students who complete a GAP Year tend to be more focused throughout their university studies. In general, however, GAP Years have been around in Western Europe for many decades and are just recently making their way to the United States. Here, in the US, almost all universities recognize the value of attending a GAP Year in maturing their students and helping them not waste their freshman and often times sophomore years exploring in the vast reaches of a university environment.
The majority of students taking a GAP Year do so as a true GAP, taking time off between their High School graduation and starting college. That said, many of our students choose to take a freshman or even sophomore year in college, and still find great value in doing a program with Carpe Diem as a clarification of their intended major, but also as a way to gain some needed experiential education to balance the past 12 - 15 years of theory.
All of that said, students who attend a structured GAP Year tend to fare 1-2 points higher in GPA in college, and tend to be 75% more likely to say that they're extremely satisfied or happy with their careers.
- Do I need to be fluent in the language of the country where I want to do my volunteer placement?
No - though some specific host organizations may require a certain level of language ability. If you are interested in volunteering with a particular organization that has a language requirement, we would suggest spending the first few weeks of your second semester at a language school, in order to meet any requirements. That said, there are many organizations that do not have language requirements, and we are happy to work with you to find a placement that will help you meet your goals - language or otherwise. (There are also volunteer placements in English speaking countries!).
- Do I have to take the college credit during my Latitudes program?
No, you are not required to take the college credit. If you choose to opt out of it, just let us know at the office a minimum of 2 weeks prior to you departure on your first semester. Note: if you are accepting FAFSA Federal Financial Aid dollars, you MUST attend and submit 12 credits minimum per semester or risk having the Federal government suspend your future financial aid and/or have them demand their financial aid dollars back. ... no bueno!
Enrolling in the Latitudes program includes up to 36 credits of University credit through Portland State University. But, there's a variety of reasons why someone might choose not to take the credit. Some students are truly just looking for an experiential program and the prospect of writing papers or getting grades is just likely to make them drool and go cross-eyed. Obviously we want you to be successful and if you're not going to do the papers, or purely need some non-academic time, then that would be a good reason not to take the credits.
As well, it's conventional wisdom that getting into a university as a Freshman rather than a Transfer student is typically easier and in those cases, you'll want to check with your university to see HOW MANY credits qualifies you as a Transfer versus Freshman ... typically it's around 30 credits. In some cases students are offered a pretty lucrative financial aid package that their university puts strong limitations around ... basically, they don't want you to go somewhere else and so put these rules in place so that you won't be tempted to go elsewhere.
Other than those reasons, it really just makes sense to get the college credit. Even if you're not sure where you're planning on enrolling for your undergraduate degree, you can still get the credits and simply choose not to transfer them. Think about it like this, the universities don't know where you've gotten credit before unless you tell them specifically. So we suggest taking the credit for its intrinsic benefits and in order to keep as many doors open as possible, but the decision for whether/when you actually transfer those credits remains with you!
How much extra spending money do I need for my second semester?
After completing your first group semester you will have a more accurate idea of your own spending needs and habits and should be able to identify what is the proper amount of extra money for yourself. You are welcome to bring as much extra spending money as you want though we recommend $200. During your Latitudes semester you will be given $2500 from Carpe Diem to pay for your expenses while abroad. That money is intended to cover your room and board and in country travel to and from your volunteer site. Anything that you spend which exceeds the $2500 will be an out of pocket expense. The vast majority of our focused volunteer placements take place in the developing world where we have found that $2500 is more than enough to live comfortably and authentically. Some focused volunteer placements may be more expensive, especially those in Western Europe in which case you will be responsible for covering any fees in excess of the $2500 stipend given to you from Carpe Diem
- Is the application fee refundable if I am not accepted? Does it count towards my tuition?
The application fee is not refundable. A considerable amount of work goes into the entire application process from start to finish which is covered by that fee ($100 for single semester applicants and $150 for Latitudes applicants). If accepted the application fee does not count towards your tuition payments.
- Aside from Federal dollars, are there other financial aid dollars or scholarships available?
We highly value the diversity of students on every program and are constantly looking for ways and partnerships to increase the availability of our programs to all students regardless of financial availability. Currently there are a few sources of financial aid in addition to FAFSA available for needs-based students: Carpe Diem itself is able to offer some small scholarships. We encourage students to look at our Financial Aid page. In it we've put together information about the traditional sources of financial aid through FAFSA and Portland State University, but also some of the less-traditional fundraising methods that have worked for past students. Finally, we've had some slideshows and powerpoint presentations created that are near-finished (so you can put your personal touch on them) as a way of encouraging you to get out into your community and share your upcoming journey. Here is our Financial Aid page.
- What does the Latitudes program cost? Is airfare covered with my tuition?
The Latitudes program costs $17,900. That cost is the same regardless of which group semester you choose to participate in. The Latitudes fee goes towards a 2 day orientation in Portland before your group semester, a full year (36 credit hours) of University credit from Portland State University, the services of one of or Latitudes Directors who will work with you one on one from the initial orientation in Portland and throughout your group semester to hone in on the focused volunteer placement of your choosing as well as during your Latitudes semester as a support and resource for you. The program fee also covers all of your expenses during your group semester including language classes (where applicable), accommodation, food, all travel while abroad, and all group activities. Each program also has to highly qualified group leaders who's primary responsibility is to the safety of each student. Unfortunately due to the volatility of airfares you are responsible for the international airfare during both of your semesters.
Airfare is not covered in the cost of tuition by Carpe Diem. Unfortunately with the volatility of airfares we have to make that a separate cost. However, in our attempt to reduce the cost of airfare, during the first portion of your trip we work with an experienced international travel agency to secure the best and cheapest flights available to our groups. For your Latitudes semester you are welcome to continue using our travel agent or you may book the flights on your own.