Travel the World with ProjectExplorer.org

One of the big reasons we love to travel internationally is the opportunity to experience how people around the world live differently than we do.

Many families don’t have the resources to travel abroad with kids yet still want to expose kids to different people, places, and cultures in an impactful way. Textbooks are a start but multimedia is a far richer way to share information.

Kristi Marcelle recently interviewed Jenny M. Buccos, the Director, Producer, and Founder of ProjectExplorer.org.  In 2003, Jenny founded this organization as a way to educate youth about the world’s cultures, histories, and people through films, photos, blogs, and other multimedia. In 2005, she directed/produced ProjectExplorer.org’s first program, Shakespeare’s England. In 2009, Jenny received a GOLD Parents’ Choice Award for Excellence in Educational Programming.

Jenny in Jordan.  Photo Source ProjectExplorer.org

What inspired you to start ProjectExplorer.org?

I was personally inspired by Michael Palin’s Travel Adventures, which frequently aired on PBS during my college years. I wanted to work for Michael Palin and travel the world as part of his film crew.

But it was in 1999, while I was working at a large investment bank, that the idea for ProjectExplorer.org began to brew. During that time, I had the opportunity to work briefly in Hong Kong and Tokyo – a total eye opening, educational experience for me!

My time in Asia made me think about how developing a global awareness from a young age could change students’ interest in education by making what they learnt in school more relevant. Learning about different people and places helps to raise awareness of social issues, arming youth with information so that they have the power to make a difference in the world.

So, in 2003, I began ProjectExplorer.org to provide “virtual passports,” especially to those for whom travel is simply not possible. This is done in the form of close to 200 short videos, photos, world music clips, and travel blogs all of which are provided at NO cost.

ProjectExplorer in Malaysia

What is the goal of ProjectExplorer.org?

Through ProjectExplorer.org’s FREE videos and multimedia materials, I strive to create an accurate and broad depiction of the countries, people, and regions covered while dispelling inaccurate stereotypes. In creating films that are multicultural and educational, I hope that our videos help contribute to a community of socially responsible individuals equipped to become the next generation of global citizens.

How do you choose the destinations?

ProjectExplorer.org selects projects that give subjects and regions that are often overlooked in schools new attention and depth. We ask for input from parents and teachers on what locations or topics they would like covered. We are currently planning our next series for this spring in Malaysia/Malaysian Borneo and I am in post-production on our Mexico series. (Mexico is scheduled to launch this fall.) If you have ideas for a future location, please let us know via our blog.

ProjectExplorer in Soweto

How can parents and teachers use your lessons plans and videos to get kids interested in other cultures?

ProjectExplorer.org is all about about the user experience. With our virtual fieldtrips we are trying to offer as many students the opportunity to meet people, explore museums, landmarks, and historical sites and experience live performance. Our film, photo, and travel journals are designed to “invite” our audience with us on our journey. This is done in the form of short (under 3 minute) videos with fast cuts, multiple angles, and lots of music — a new style in educational programming that will appeal to most students.

Under our educator section, we offer lesson plan suggestions that encourage in class discussion and written or creative exercise that challenge students to analyze and interpret the materials they have seen. Many of our lessons ask students to compare and contrast past historical events with current global issues, and encourage classroom dialogues that explore ways to resolve conflict, environmental, and racial issues.

Our daily lessons and “fieldtrips” offer an overview of locations, subjects, and performances. Each video and written item has been carefully constructed to provide a basic understanding of materials and topics that may be new to most students. They are designed to provide the groundwork and spark an interest in further independent exploration of the topics and destinations we have covered.

How can kids participate in ProjectExplorer.org beyond the lesson plans?

In 2008, I started a companion project that allows kids to take an active role our video series. The Good Global Citizen project builds on ProjectExplorer.org’s mission to foster the next generation of global citizens. The project was inspired by our interview with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and a frequent ProjectExplorer.org interview question:

What does being a good global citizen mean to you?

This project gives our global audience – both kids and adults – the opportunity to take part in our work by creating their own video response for our sister website. In just a one year’s time we’ve gathered more than 100 video commentaries from some inspiring young people as well as lots of celebrity voices.

ProjectExplorer in South Africa

Do you have a particular success story from one of your destinations?

Each location and series offers its own rewards. I have the unique opportunity to be a global ambassador by sharing stories and answering questions about my travel experiences with students in America (and abroad). This is, without a doubt, is the most rewarding part of my work.

To date, our most successful series is South Africa. The people in South Africa were incredibly welcoming and willing to share their stories. For this series I worked with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Pulitzer prize recipient Greg Marinovich, and some of the country most respected artists, leaders, and musicians. In June 2008, I was featured in O, The Oprah Magazine for my work in South Africa.

A couple of the destinations, Mexico City and Jordan, are not typical family tourist destinations – do you have a travel tip for families traveling to exotic locations?

I believe that Mexico City and Jordan are excellent family destinations that have, unfortunately, received some negative media attention. No matter the destination, I think that it all comes down to research. There are many treasures that exotic destination hold that would appeal to kids and family. Jordan, for instance, has the Dead Sea, the Bedouin of Wadi Rum, and the chance to follow in the footsteps of Indiana Jones at Petra. It is simply a matter of educating oneself on what a particular country has to offer and how to go about being safe in the destination you choose.

Additional notes from Jenny:

Stay tuned for ProjectExplorer.org’s 4th series in September 2010, Mucho Mexico!

Spreading the word is one of our biggest challenges. When I speak with educators and administrators there is an initial skepticism. They find it difficult to believe that our educational programming is free. However, the schools and students that need our programs and new educational materials the most cannot afford resources.

Of course, keeping it free presents another challenge. Identifying corporate sponsors and getting support from foundations and individuals is no small task. It would be wonderful if everyone who used our site made a small contribution. Simply put, the faster we are able to raise funds for our programs the more locations and subjects we are able to cover, thus expanding our catalogue of programming.

More Ciao Bambino Interviews:

Meet Eileen Ogintz

Meet Erica Dublin of See Jane Fly

Meet Erica Ehm of Yummy Mummy Club

Meet @TravelSavvyKayt

Meet Melissa Biggs Bradley

Meet Wendy Perrin

Meet Yolanda Edwards of Cookie Magazine Travel

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