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Kentucky to Korea and beyond: Justin’s EF journey

In 2016, Justin was sitting on a beach in Cambodia at sunset, snapping skyline photos and scrolling through Instagram, when a travel company liked one of his posts. His trek across Southeast Asia would be ending soon, and his future was wide open.

“I had heard about educational travel during my backpacking trip, but hadn’t looked into it fully,” Justin recalls. Curious about the company that liked his photo, Justin did some digging—that’s how he found EF Education First. “I immediately realized, ah, this is where I want to be!” he says.

Justin’s path to EF started in a farming village in Illinois—population: 700. His small-town roots fueled his desire to discover new places and absorb other cultures. “Coming from an area where most people haven’t traveled out of state, let alone internationally, I became extremely passionate about travel, and empowering others to do the same.”

Following high school, Justin explored acting at a playhouse in Kentucky and various jobs across the U.S. After a few years, he decided it was finally time to pursue his love of international travel, so he followed in a friend’s footsteps and accepted a job teaching English in South Korea.

“I had studied abroad before, so I knew living and working abroad was something I wanted to try,” Justin says. “I flew to South Korea where I didn’t know anybody. I didn’t know the language. But that was the most thrilling part for me—being immersed somewhere you know nothing about.”

After a year, Justin’s teaching obligation was fulfilled. Far from ready to return home, he volunteered for Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR), a nonprofit organization that matches English-speaking tutors with North Korean defectors.

“The coolest thing for me was helping my students through university-level courses in a language they had never spoken before,” Justin says. “That was extremely eye-opening. My students were the most amazing people I had ever met. They really inspired me to learn more about the world.”

After a while, Justin realized that he was looking for something more in his career. And with a simple double-tap on his photo, EF entered his life at just the right time. “I connected with EF’s mission of opening the world through education because of my teaching experience with TNKR,” Justin says. “EF’s mission makes a difference in the world. That’s what drew me to the company.”

Justin decided to take the leap and accepted an offer as a Customized Itinerary Specialist for EF Educational Tours in EF’s Denver office, where he focuses on building tailored experiences for student trips through Southeast Asian countries.

Recently, after coordinating a charity concert in which he raised over $2,700, Justin was chosen to present at the Best of EF Denver—a series of office talks given by staff members with an interesting story to tell. Justin discussed his various philanthropic efforts that focus on “giving back while pursuing your passions.”

“This opportunity gave me the chance to discuss my outside passions and how EF has supported me through them,” he says. “Now, building an itinerary is not solely a task, but a chance to educate our teachers and travelers about the world and breadth of the EF family.”

Every day, Justin happily brings his passions and experience to work in order to support EF’s global impact. “It’s a common thread that all EF staff share worldwide. Whether it’s a colleague in Lucerne, Tokyo, Boston, or Denver, we believe in the work. We all ‘bleed’ pink.”

Interested in opening the world with us? Visit careers.ef.com

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