THE ICO EXPERIENCE
This past May, I had the opportunity to fly out to Kathmandu and spend a month living there as an In-Country Operative for Choose a Challenge and their Everest Base Camp challenge. I was making my way through a year that saw myself becoming more and more interested in heading to different countries and simply figuring it out on the go. Not surprisingly, being an ICO turned out to be an entirely unique, challenging, and fulfilling role. If you love experiencing new cultures and meeting awesome people, this is the opportunity for you. The overarching purpose of the role is to assist the Choose a Challenge participants taking on their respective challenges. Simple enough. However, the experience entails much more than that.
Being an ICO
The title of In-Country-Operative is naturally pretty self explanatory. You are there to assist in the operations of the company in the destination country of a specific challenge. The ICO is firstly responsible for providing a warm welcome for arriving groups of students at the airport. From there, the ICO is in charge of a series of tasks that will help guide participants through their journey. For example, you could find me on any given day helping deliver pre-trek briefings, being on hand to help with any incidents, and answer any questions participants might have before and after their trek. This is why it’s so important to be knowledgeable about the entire scope of the trip. Personally, I sat down with the ground agent and went over the entire trip itinerary multiple times until I felt I had a clear grasp of it. The ground agents will be your best friends during your time in country. They have been organizing these treks for years and will be your go to source for any information you may need. I became great friends with our partner trekking company in Kathmandu as well and they were instrumental to my immersion into Nepali culture.
The ICO is firstly a friendly face that is knowledgeable about the trek and there to help out participants wherever he/she can. However, when you find yourself with some extra time, you’ll have the freedom to go out and explore, which really turns this experience into something more. It’s your chance to make the most of the unique opportunity to live abroad for an entire month. Say yes to everything, try to meet as many people as you can, and revel in the fact that you are living in a faraway land. I was able to visit the homes of my Nepali friends, join a local gym, and even learn a tiny bit of the language. By the end, I was knowledgeable about the history of the country and had been to my favorite sights at least twice. Looking back at the end of the experience, I reveled in the fact that I had little to no knowledge about the country beforehand. I decided to leave my comfort zone and take a leap, and was rewarded for it with a whirlwind of beneficial life experiences in the span of one month.
The Bottom Line
The ICO is a role for anyone who is interested in the mission of Choose a Challenge, which is to take more people abroad (including yourself!). I hadn’t been involved with the company beforehand, in comparison to other ICOs, but regardless of your experience with Choose a Challenge, you’ll be embodying its core values either way as an ICO. Head past your comfort zone to find magic that can only be associated with packing up your things and moving across the world for a month. It’s one of the cooler jobs out there.