The path less traveled

No beach vacations here — these Adobe employees use their time off to make other people’s lives better.

Vacation. The word conjures up images of relaxation, downtime, and indulgence. After all, if you have time off from work, why wouldn’t you spend it in the most carefree way possible?

We found some Adobe employees who have turned the idea of “me” time into “we” time — as in “make our world a better place” time. They have dedicated their vacations to serving others, and they embody every value — genuine, exceptional, innovative, and involved — that Adobe holds dear.

sabbatical-john

Based in: San Jose, California, USA

Vacation: Volunteered in an orphanage in Guatemala

A busy product manager gets a few weeks off to spend however he wants. No work commute, no deadlines, no family obligations — just him and his backpack. So what better place to spend a few carefree weeks than… a Guatemalan orphanage?

“I didn’t know much about it before I did it,” John says of the volunteer gig he found online. “I said, ‘I’ll go where you need me.’ I just wanted to be with human beings, not computers.”

John says his goal was something of a reality check — away from the affluence of Silicon Valley, away from the constant pressure to innovate, away from a place in the world where it’s too easy to become desensitized to fortune and good luck.

So a few weeks later, he found himself in Guatemala City helping to care for some of the 50 kids who lived in a local orphanage. He spent days playing games, drawing, giving hugs, and controlling chaos. On his Adobe blog, he later wrote moving entries about his experiences: “the life-affirming, the very sad, and mostly the totally banal.”

The experience of working in an orphanage, he says, is hard to sum up. It’s sometimes the typical tediousness of childcare. It’s sometimes the crushing recognition that these children may never know the love of a parent. And it’s sometimes just playing with a bunch of kids who just want to play.

“I didn’t expect to change the world, but I hoped to change myself in some measure,” John says. “Did I change at all? Did I make a dent? It’s hard to quantify that, but you hope that when some critical decision comes 10 years down the line, after an experience like this you could be ready to make a more courageous call.”

sabbatical-mark

Based in: San Francisco, California, USA

Vacation: Taught English and math in Tanzania

When Mark was preparing for his time off, he knew he didn’t want to spend it at home or traveling to a place he already knew. So when a co-worker gave him the idea of volunteering in Africa, he decided that sort of experience was exactly what he needed.

Mark arrived to his assignment at an orphanage in Tanzania and was surprised by the level of need — only to discover that his location was one of the better-funded institutions in the area.

“There was a cabinet that had only one instruction book for the whole grade,” Mark says. “The teacher would copy the lesson on the chalkboard, and then the kids would copy it in their handmade notebooks, and then they would go through it. Some of these kids would walk an hour or two just to get to school.”

After his second day, he bought each child a pencil, eraser, and 12-inch ruler so they could draw neat columns on their papers. These supplies were prized possessions, and Mark helped the teacher paint numbers on each piece. They collected the supplies at the end of each day to ensure the kids would be able to use them at school the next day.

“I recommend that other people do something like this,” he says. “I think there’s a lot of people who get really swept up in the day-to-day stuff of life, and they stop appreciating what they have. If you go somewhere like that, it really brings it into perspective.”

sabbatical-baris

Based in: Istanbul, Turkey

Vacation: Annual social-mission trips to Africa

Four years ago, Baris took a trip to Kenya to go on a safari. When he returned, he used Adobe tools to put together a video about his travels. It quickly became an online hit that caught the eye of a professional production company. They asked Baris to go back to Africa to film and contribute to a documentary project for a local nonprofit organization, and he jumped at the chance.

Baris remembers a visit to a Niger village with no electricity or running water. When he met a baby boy, he was struck by the stark contrast between this baby’s circumstances and his own son’s circumstances.

“There is no real difference between who he is and who my son is. He didn’t choose to be born into these conditions,” Baris says. “So I committed to go to the poorest countries of the world at least one time each year on my vacation time. I’m not a doctor; I can’t volunteer to give them healthcare. But I have some other qualifications, like taking pictures and videos, and producing stories. Maybe I can use that to inspire other people to help.”

Baris has now traveled to Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Niger, and Nigeria to contribute to documentaries or work for local nonprofit organizations that benefit children living in poverty.

“When we work, sometimes our perspective gets narrow,” Baris says. “With this kind of trip — it’s like fresh air in our lives. I can open my eyes wider and increase my vision about humanity and our world.”

sabbatical-heather

Based in: San Francisco, California, USA

Vacation: Volunteered in Russia

When Heather was deciding how to spend her time off, she knew she had to do something unusual.

“I wanted to do something that would either let me use a part of my brain I don’t normally use or just immerse myself in something new,” she says. “I had the idea of helping people and helping myself to grow at the same time.”

She found a volunteer opportunity in Russia. For three weeks, she spent mornings in a psychiatric hospital for orphans and afternoons at a day program for seniors and people with developmental disabilities.

“Parts of it were devastating. You’d see a kid happy and alert one day, and the next day really medicated,” Heather says. “But parts of it were really joyous. There were these kids and adults who were happy to see you and wanted to connect with you. They taught me to play card games and exposed me to the culture in a way that nobody else could.”

After the deep introspection that comes with such a trip, Heather decided to make changes in her own life. She took advantage of Adobe’s education benefit to attend graduate school while working part-time.

Heather says she hopes to take her daughter on a similar trip someday.

“When you have time to explore who you are relative to the rest of the world, you bring that insight back with you,” she says. “It helps you build better things for people.”

Jean-Christophe

Based in: Basel, Switzerland

Vacation: Built houses in Romania

Jean-Christophe spends most of his work day developing code. When it came time to planning his vacation this year, he wanted to do something completely different. Yes, no beach vacations or tours to exotic countries. He wanted to give back to the community and support others.

As he was researching for volunteer opportunities, Jean-Christophe was introduced to the Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit organization, by some friends. This opportunity involved traveling to Romania with a team of volunteers to build houses together.

“The concept of Habitat for Humanity is that you give money and time in order to build a house,” Jean-Christophe mentioned. “You pay for your expenses, you pay part of the materials and you give one week of your time.”

Jean-Christophe and a team of volunteers worked with local professionals to put together the foundation of a house in a couple of days.

“It was one of the most fulfilling vacations I’ve ever had,” Jean-Christophe said. “On the last day, we visited one of the families chosen to receive one of these houses. They lived in two rooms with no floors and it was heart wrenching to see people living in such extreme conditions just two hours by flight from where I live. We also had the opportunity to visit some families who received Habitat for Humanity houses 10 years ago and how they’ve benefited from the program. Many of them are now volunteers with Habitat for Humanity so they can help give others a better life.”

Jean-Christophe realized that he received so much more than he gave and he’s looking forward to building more houses next year.

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