Teaching & Traveling

  1. Tell us a bit about your background. (Ex: where you’re from, how long you taught or did another career and where, your age if you want, your travel background, where you are now and what you’re doing, etc.)

My name is Stacie Freeman.  I am an Associate Professor of Sociology at Bethel University (BU) in Tennessee, the Director of BU Global Studies, and the Co-Executive Director of Bright Light Volunteers (BLV).  In that capacity, I teach Global Service Learning and Citizenship courses to both college and high school students.  Through these six-week courses, students learn via online coursework, cultural immersion, and reflection activities. In-country, they volunteer alongside our international partners on community-led service projects, for which they earn the President’s Volunteer Service Award and three hours of college credit.  So, five weeks “in the classroom” and one week “in-country” is our formula.  I have been organizing and leading local, national, and international service programs since 2007.  I have led 25 student groups and visited over 30 countries (through work and with family).

  1. Explain one (or more) interesting travels you have undertaken (or are currently undertaking) during your time outside of your regular home-country classroom/job. (Where did you go, what did you do, for how long, and how was it?)

I recently returned from Thailand with a group of students from Chico, CA.  Our service there was focused on education (we taught basic English in Hill Tribe schools) and elephant rescue.  Thailand is one of my favorite places to learn and serve.  The rich culture, beautiful scenery, and kind people make it an ideal location for students and educators.  We began our two week journey in Chiang Mai where we explored temples in the company of a former Buddhist Monk.  So, not only did we enjoy the beautiful architecture of the wats and pagodas, we learned a tremendous amount about Buddhism and its cultural impact in Thailand, an excellent supplement to the coursework offered online.  While in Chiang Mai, we also explored night markets, art museums, and even visited the local women’s prison for a massage via a government sponsored social program.  The idea is that the women learn a marketable skill so that when they’re released they can support themselves and their children. The program is innovative AND successful. The prison / government has even opened spas in Chiang Mai to create jobs, post-release. Pretty cool!  Other culturally immersive activities included cooking lessons, a homestay in the countryside, a bike ride through the rice paddies, and trekking through Doi Inthanon National Park.  Our second week in Thailand was totally dedicated to service.  For this arm of the program, we drove several hours into the hills of Thailand and spent the week living and working among the oldest Hill Tribes in Thailand, the Karen and the Hmong.  We taught English in the local primary schools and served on an elephant rescue project.  Essentially, the Hmong and Karen people, due to economic necessity, had been renting their elephants to the logging industry, circuses, and tourism.  In these environments, the elephants were horribly mistreated.  Through an innovative rescue program, the elephants have been returned to their owners and are now freely roaming the jungle.  It is a beautiful thing to see and experience.  As volunteers in the project, we fed the elephants, helped in the garden (where nutritious food is grown to feed the elephants and their mahouts), and assisted with paving a road to ease the delivery of volunteers and supplies to the project.  At the end of our time with the Hill Tribe people, the local Shaman came to our village and blessed our group with a prayer of thanks for our help and protection for our return home. Incredible!!!

  1. How do you find your travel opportunities? (Ex: website, friend, group.)

As the Director of Global Studies, I have multiple connections to agencies and organizations offering travel opportunities to students and educators.  My inbox stays full.  However, I began working with Bright Light Volunteers (BLV) in 2016.  While I have worked with other orgs since then, most of my programs are currently organized by BLV.

  1. How did you find the money to fund your travel? (Ex: savings, scholarships, grants, fundraising, etc.)

I plan my programs one year in advance.  This gives students and their families time to fundraise.  Some of my students secure part-time employment to pay for the experience, others request funding from clubs like Rotary and Lions.  A few have had success securing scholarships through orgs like SYTA as well.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

  1. Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful, interesting, or funny.

This summer, I had the opportunity to meet Lek Chailert, the founder of Elephant Nature Park (ENP).  She is a tiny but MIGHTY woman.  She rescued her first elephant 20 or so years ago.  Today, there are over 80 elephants being cared for at ENP.  In addition to the rescued herd, she and her staff care for over 500 dogs and cats at the park.  This enormous project started with one woman on one mission.  Today,  her voice and hard work for the voiceless, abused animals she rescues is heard around the world.  In her presence, I was reminded that no matter how big the world’s problems, we ALL have the power to leave this place better than we found it.

  1. How have your travels impacted you as a teacher (if you went back to teaching) or in your current career, and how have your travels impacted you as a person?

My travel informs everything I do.  Experiencing other people, from other places has improved my understanding of my role as a global citizen and my responsibility for developing solutions to global social problems.  I see this in my students as well.  On post-service surveys, 100% of my students report that the experience has contributed positively to their appreciation for and understanding of other people and cultures and that their awareness of global social problems and solutions has been improved.  They also report having a better understanding of their role as global citizens and of the interconnection between the US and other countries and cultures. As an educator, reading those surveys has been highly impactful and on hard days, keeps me going.

  1. What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching? (Either general inspirational words and/or specific sites, organizations, strategies, or links which are useful.)

Be persistent!  If your administration is hesitant or resistant, take baby steps.  I started by volunteering with students close to home, in our local community.  Then, I began organizing service programs across our state.  My next move was to organize service projects across the country.  Finally, seven years in, my proposal to travel with students to Costa Rica was approved.   Sometimes, it takes time.  Don’t give up!  “Water cuts through rock not because of its strength but because of its persistence.”

Elephant refuge in Thailand

Elephant refuge in Thailand where our program participants partake in various service initiatives!

Love is all you need!

Global Service Learning Leader Honored with GreatNonprofit’s Prestigious Top-Rated Award

Bright Light Volunteers announced that it has been honored with the prestigious 2019 Top- Rated Award by Great Nonprofits for the third time in a row. GreatNonprofits, the leading provider of third party reviews for nonprofit organizations, created their Top-Rated Award as a sort of people’s choice award for nonprofits, where volunteers, donors, and people served cast their vote in the form of a review to express their appreciation and help their favorite nonprofits win a spot on this coveted list. Read more here:

Top Nonprofit Honor- GreatNonprofits

Our programs use a methodology called global-service learning, which combines international community service with experiential learning. This approach creates culturally aware global leaders and citizens who understand their place in the world and their ability to effect change both at home and abroad. 

Bright Light Volunteers puts education and global citizenship at the heart of its mission to make the world a brighter place. We have partnered with an accredited university to achieve our mission and sustain our core values, which makes our nonprofit a one-of-a-kind organization. In partnership with Bethel University (of McKenzie, Tennessee)we offer opportunities specifically designed to prepare students to become the global thinkers and leaders of tomorrow. 

Our programs use a methodology called global-service learning, which combines international community service with experiential learning. This approach creates culturally aware global leaders and citizens who understand their place in the world and their ability to effect change both at home and abroad. 

Students will travel, learn, serve, and lead through each of our programs; each one provides transformative, culturally immersive, experiences abroad. 

Since our partnership has developed, participants now have the opportunity to enroll in a six-week online course in Global Service Learning and Citizenship (GSLC) through Bethel University. With guidance from UNESCO global citizenship education, the GSLC course equips students with the knowledge and functional skills necessary to become culturally competent. Students gain exposure to the history and culture of the host country, preparing them for the experience of cultural immersion and exchange.  

We then provide opportunities to serve by working side-by-side with local partners on community-led service projects abroad, allowing students to develop a deeper understanding of the host country and culture. Students can expect to serve between 20 and 80 hours, depending on the length and location of the program.  

Stacie Freeman & Catherine Greenberg

University Professor and Non-profit ED Reimagine Global Citizenship Education for U.S. High School Students


Stacie Freeman, a Tennessee university sociology professor and Catherine Greenberg, a Texas non-prot executive director, joined forces to create an innovative partnership designed to reimagine, even revolutionize, global citizenship education for U.S. high school students.

“In order to effect global change, education must evolve and expand to prepare all young people to create a brighter future,” says Professor Freeman. “We both understood what needed to be done to help solve for this deficit and we felt up to the challenge. Even in this new age of technology, where ideas, money, and goods can be transported around the globe in mere seconds—the term “global citizen” is still commonly misunderstood.”

According to Oxfam Education, “a global citizen is aware of and understands the wider world and their place in it. They take an active role in their community, and work with others to make our planet more equal, fair, and sustainable.” At Bright Light Volunteers (BLV), it is believed that global citizens and leaders are created through high quality, rigorous education coupled with sustainable, international service. Through an innovative partnership with Bethel University (BU), together, they provide a ground-breaking global service learning and citizenship program where high school students enroll in a Global Service Learning and Citizenship course, for college credit or a certificate of global citizenship, prior to volunteering abroad. This unique, multifaceted approach to global citizenship education results in the deep global competence required of tomorrow’s leaders.

Greenberg reports that the BLV-BU partnership is working. Since inception, students who participate in Bright Light Volunteers’ Global Service Learning and Citizenship programs report:

Improved understanding of local, national, and global challenges

Improved understanding of the interconnectedness of the worlds’ countries and people

Professor Freeman with a group of dual enrollment high school students in Cuba.

“We’re determined to make the world a brighter place,” Greenberg smiles. “One student at a time.”

Willingness to act effectively and responsibly on a local, national, and international level Increased appreciation and respect for diversity
Improved critical thinking skills for problem solving, peacemaking, and social responsibility Increased empathy for others and the environment

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In addition to these findings, 100% of BLV high school participants graduate and attend college. This is especially encouraging in the rural, Title One schools where Freeman and Greenberg are creating opportunities. By all accounts, this dynamic duo really is reshaping the educational landscape and challenging the status quo when it comes to access to global education. “We’re determined to make the world a brighter place,” Greenberg smiles. “One student at a time.”


Bright Light Volunteers is a 501(c)(3), non-prot organization, designed to empower program participants and community partners through education and service. Specifically, our programs adhere to global service-learning best practices, which combine community service with both experiential learning in the eld and online coursework through our university partner. Our vision is to make the world a brighter place by creating a more peaceful, just, interconnected world where global challenges and opportunities are met by educated, compassionate, global citizens and leaders.

Founded in 1842, Bethel University is a nonprofit institution that is regionally accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Bethel University’s mission is to create opportunities for members of the learning community to develop in a Christian environment their highest intellectual, spiritual, and social potential. This includes synchronous and asynchronous modes of education.