Having spent over 40 years in the international education industry, Randy LeGrant definitely has some stories. He spent a large portion of his time in the sector working in US study abroad and student travel, and now oversees the international Test of English Proficiency. He gives us some insight into his storied career.
Tell us about a defining moment in your career.
When I was with AFS, I spent some time with some ambulance drivers who worked for them during World War Two – it started as the American Ambulance Field Service. They volunteered for all the right reasons – I think it’s why I was drawn to the project GoAbroad did in Ukraine last year. It was a very similar situation where you risk so much, and in some cases, your life. And I think just being able to spend time with them and pick their brains about why they volunteered, what they thought AFS would turn into – it really impacted my life, as well as my career.
How did you find yourself working in the industry?
Just by accident. I was a high school English teacher, and I saw a film from AIFS – I thought ‘oh… I’ll do that’. And so I got a group of kids on a trip, and in those days, you could do five countries in Europe for 30 days for $1,000 – that included flights, meals, the whole thing. The first year I had 13 kids and we started in Athens and we ended up in London. The second year, more joined, and then the fourth year we had 80 kids and that was me teaching in a small rural community in Kansas. I got I just got bitten by that bug – AIFS talked to me about a contract, and I stayed there for 10 years.
What do you like most about your job?
I get to help people achieve dreams and a part of that happens if they take our test! It’s going to set them out to get placed properly, with the right school or employer – it’s going to change their lives when they go home. It could possibly even change their families’ lives and that’s just the most satisfying thing to know.
Who’s the most inspiring international student you’ve met, helped or taught?
“In those days, you could go to five countries in Europe for 30 days for $1,000”
I was struck by a young lady when I was president of GeoVisions. We got wrapped up in the volunteer programs through a reciprocity project with the State Department. She went and did this volunteer project in Thailand, and the kids at the school she was volunteering at had soccer balls that had been cut – no air in them at all, so all but useless. So once she came back, she got people in her community to donate enough money that she was able to go back to this school and take hundreds of new soccer balls for the kids. Other volunteers started hearing about it, and they started doing similar things with their community as a result.
Your best work trip?
In December 2010, I went to Amman, Jordan. I was there to put together a volunteer program at a refugee camp, putting them there to teach English to the refugees. A few days later a friend asked me to go to Damascus to do the same thing – three weeks before the war broke out. They brought a car and drove me from Amman to Damascus, 20 miles before Damascus I had to get into the boot of the car to go the rest of the way! I was then slated to go to Beirut, so I got in another car, in the front this time, and had to explain to Syrian border agents why I was in Jordan one minute and Damascus the next. It was a gratifying trip!
Who’s a champion or cheerleader in the industry we all should follow and why?
Troy Peden, who founded GoAbroad. He walks the walk, he’s always got a smile on his face, and he can figure out solutions to problems; he’s a mentor, and married to the whole industry. If I could be even a little bit like him, I would be very happy indeed.