When Vanessa started university, she was studying to become a psychologist. Just after she turned 20, she backpacked through Europe and took a walking tour of Berlin for 15 euros that changed her life. On the tour she noticed a museum with marks on the walls, which the tour guide explained were representations of Soviet bullet holes from World War II.
“Suddenly, the past was part of the present,” she said. “Of course I knew about the world wars, but here was something physical that connected me to that. It was my ‘aha!’ moment. I came home filled with a new kind of energy and enrolled in every history course I could get my hands on––even ended up with a history minor.”
The walking tour ignited a spark that changed the trajectory of her life forever. When she was looking for jobs after graduation, she knew she could follow logic or passion.
Though she was interested in psychology, she never felt the same passion she had for history or travel. She typed “travel” into the job search field on monster.com and found EF Education First.
“I walked in the door at EF Toronto and found my people,” she said. “We all shared a similar story and the firm belief that more people should have the chance to find their passion and that travel can help you find it. They offered me the job that night and I never looked back.”
It’s been nearly 10 years since Vanessa started working at EF, and she has held numerous roles throughout her tenure. She began as a Tour Consultant in 2010, moved to the Montreal office for a year, returned to Toronto and worked for the Customized Itineraries team and spent six years on the Emergency & Incident Response team.
In 2017 she returned right back where she started at Educational Tours Canada (ETCA) but this time as a Product Manager for the Educational Programming team.
As a Product Manager for Educational Tours Canada, Vanessa’s role is to provide educational tours for young people traveling abroad. She says that 80% of her job is managing the historical events portfolio, which organizes tours for students, educators and military cadet groups to visit meaningful sites connected to the students’ curriculum or the cadets’ historical regiment.
Most of the tours immerse students in the history of Canada’s involvement in the world wars. She also helped organize specific tours like the 75th anniversary of D-Day this year, which involved sending large groups of Canadian and American students to Normandy to attend official ceremonies.
Though Vanessa never expected to stay at EF for 10 years, she finds it difficult to imagine leaving because she truly loves the work environment. “There is a certain type of person EF looks for––for any role, whether it’s entry level or CFO,” she explained.
“They always have the same things in common: a passion for people and an eagerness to collaborate, to reach new goals and to innovate in an atmosphere that’s fun, but professional. People here continue to develop. It’s okay if you make a mistake, but let’s learn from them and not make them again. Let’s keep building instead of feeling badly.”
It’s not lost on Vanessa that she’s been able to spend her professional career sparking other people’s passion in the same way hers was inspired.
“In a world where people lack understanding of each other, being able to travel to other places, to see how people live, what their life is in a very different place helps––not only tolerance, but connecting with the greater world outside the bubble,” she explained.
“What better thing is there than facilitating other people having those moments? I always come back to my own ‘why’––all this hard work will lead to one more young person feeling that awakening.”