Today we’d like to introduce you to Jane Stine.
So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
In 2008, I decided to take a break from my teaching career and backpack around the world for a year. During that trip, I learned about the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand and decided that I had to go. My now-husband Addam came over from the US to join me in Thailand, and what was supposed to be a short visit turned into him moving to Thailand! I continued on my trip, but returned to Thailand again, and by the time we moved back to the US, we knew we’d be back. That year, I went back to school for my Masters of Education at Harvard, and we spent pretty much the whole year coming up with Loop Abroad. We wanted a summer travel program that was career-focused and, above all else, authentic. We wanted to get away from the voluntourism model and have our students learn from experts in the field while supporting locally-run development organizations with sustainable models. We knew Elephant Nature Park was the perfect initial partner, so we built our first trip around that experience.
Initially, we only served high school students and our programs were only in Thailand. Over the next couple years, we started specializing in veterinary and ethical animal programs. Because we had amazing staff, wonderful partner organizations, and an emphasis on curriculum, we became popular with serious animal science and pre-veterinary students. I think our commitment to animal welfare really helped us establish our voice. I can’t believe how many student travel and study abroad program still offer elephant riding! Our students are looking to learn from experts and to contribute in a valuable, sustainable, and meaningful way, without causing harm to animals, so when they find us, they know they’re in the right place!
Now Loop Abroad has programs in Asia, Africa, and Australia for high school, college, and vet school students–everything from two-week summer programs to a full veterinary semester abroad! We still work with the Elephant Nature Park on our Thailand summer programs, but we also have everything from SCUBA programs at an island marine conservation center to African safaris. My husband and I run Loop Abroad from Thailand, where we live with our son and our crazy dog. It definitely has its challenges, but we love being close to our students and our partner organizations.
Has it been a smooth road?
I don’t think entrepreneurship is ever a smooth road! The biggest challenge was educating ourselves about the study abroad industry. In the first few years, we talked to so many people and read everything we could! But ultimately you learn what works for you and your students by running that first group and then constantly trying to improve. Study abroad is becoming more popular as more schools commit to making their student’s global citizens and prioritize cross-cultural experiences. But in a lot of ways, the model is stuck in the past. Study abroad offices can have a hard time understanding when you’re doing something new. Fortunately, it’s easier to reach students directly than ever before. They’re more eager to say, “Hey, I’ve never seen this anywhere else–it’s exactly what I want!” and then find a way to make it work for them.
A big challenge for us has been educating people about riding elephants, and why we don’t do it. We understand that people want that photo of themselves riding an elephant, but they sometimes don’t understand that that photo is made possible by a lot of pain. We bet on the fact that most people want to ride an elephant because they love elephants and think they’re amazing, so if they knew what goes into elephant riding, they wouldn’t want to do it. Our students are able to have once-in-a-lifetime animal interactions on our programs, but they actually improve the animals’ quality of life at the same time. They can go home feeling proud of their experience, which we love–and so do they! We know that you can have a completely life-changing, fun, educational travel experience without causing harm. But when you’re first starting out, it’s hard to compete with glossy photos of students riding elephants and hugging tigers.
We’re very lucky that our teachers, vets, staff, students, and alumni are committed to our vision and help us work hard to keep improving our programs and offering new programs that meet our students’ high expectations. Sometimes it’s daunting to try to break the mold and offer a new kind of program that isn’t out there when you know something more traditional would be easier to sell. But I think that our commitment to offering only programs we believe in 100% has made the difference in our growth. Our students all know that when we offer an experience, we stand behind it, and that’s important to them.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Loop Abroad story. Tell us more about the business.
Loop Abroad is a study abroad program focused on animals. We offer veterinary, pre-veterinary, animal science, marine science, and animal experience programs in Asia, Australia, and Africa. We’re mostly known for our veterinary programs, which follow a different model than most veterinary abroad programs. Typically, veterinary programs abroad for high school or undergraduate students fit into one of two models: they either offer animal volunteer experience with no vet supervision, or they offer the chance to assist and learn from vets as the vets offer animal care. There’s nothing wrong with either of those, but we offer a different model.
Our programs are small-groups led by a team of veterinarians, with a US vet devoted to each cohort of 12 or fewer students. The vet’s main job is to teach! So students get hands-on experience guided by their vet, and they learn and practice veterinary skills alongside a classroom component. While they do assist in providing medical care, the main support they give is that their tuition helps to support our partner projects, which are locally owned and operated and run year-round to provide animal care and development projects. In the development world, this model is highly preferred over the “voluntourism model”, like where you go to a country for ten days with no experience and help build a well. The idea is, you’re here to learn skills and to learn from your experts and our partners abroad. In exchange, you provide some of the funding for their year-round development. It’s a true cross-cultural exchange that allows our students to get amazing, hands-on experience with animals such as elephants and cheetah while improving their educational and career resumes and trying out new aspects of a career that interests them.
We are probably best known for focusing on ethical animal interactions and suggesting that students avoid programs that offer elephant riding, swimming with dolphins, interacting with lions at facilities that breed for canned hunting, and similar activities that attract animal-lovers but are harmful to animals. There has been a shift in the last few years away from these activities, led in part by TripAdvisor, but nine years ago we were one of the few studies abroad companies with this element in our mission statement. It’s becoming meaningful to more and more people, which we think is great! Our students are animal-lovers, and we’re also proud that we can always accommodate vegetarian and vegan students (in fact, all the meals at Elephant Nature Park are vegetarian) because it’s just one more way we can help to support their ethics and values.
- Program tuition starts at $3,450
- Website: www.loopabroad.com
- Phone: 617-412-0838
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: instagram.com/loopabroad
- Facebook: facebook.com/loopabroadtravel
- Twitter: @loopabroad
Carrie Back, Danielle DeVisser, Diana Lopez, Angel Girard, Hannah Williams