Where the Andes Mountains End and the Jungle Begins

Anthony sits on a ledge, wearing sunglasses, overlooking green islands over water.
Anthony Treas is a veteran of the Iraq War who spent eight years serving with the United States military. In 2014 during his undergraduate degree at Oregon State University he completed a public health internship in Ecuador on the U.S. Department of State-funded Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program. But what started as an international exchange experience in Ecuador led to a career in Colombia.

As soon as Anthony heard he would need to find an internship for his Bachelor’s degree in Public Health Promotion, he knew he wanted to complete it abroad. He wished to further his cultural awareness and knew he wanted to spend time living in a Spanish-speaking country, since he already spoke some of the language. After finding out about the Gilman Scholarship from his professor, Anthony applied and was awarded a scholarship to fund his time abroad. He was able to secure a public health internship conducting water testing in Ecuador, situated right where the Andes Mountains end and the jungle begins.

"I loved the opportunity and will always remember the experience I had in Ecuador because it opened my eyes to the world and what I’ve come to discover are the things and places that impact international health."

The internship took place over the course of three months in 2014. Anthony says the experience was quite interesting because at thirty-six, he was much older than the other students, most of whom were in their early twenties. Additionally, Anthony knew that his PTSD and anxiety were things he needed to be aware of while abroad. During this time, he says that his disability made it easy for him to isolate himself—which was not something he wanted to do. There were only five people on the program, and a key part of this experience was trying to stay engaged with and relate to the other students.

By this point, Anthony had already gone through therapy sessions and learned about meditation, deep-breathing exercises, and self-reflection, and had these strategies in mind as a plan for his time abroad. Other than these practices Anthony did not receive disability-related accommodations, however he says if he had needed support, either through his school’s veterans or study abroad offices, it would have been available.

"The opportunity to work with the indigenous communities in Ecuador was very unique and will always stand out as an experience that really set a foundation for me for my world views."

Living abroad, connecting with indigenous people, and working to understand the systems in place within smaller communities provided for a deeper appreciation of the information Anthony learned throughout his academic career. Being able to truly see and conceptualize the material he was studying gave him an elevated understanding that he would go on to incorporate into his life.

"For me those unique opportunities to be in an international community, to see how people live - their beliefs, their unique culture, would eventually lead me to further my education in international public health."

Anthony went on to obtain a Master’s degree in International Health which lead him to take a position in Southeast Alaska, working on a grant to improve the health and wellness of Alaskan natives. He says that his past experiences abroad, both in Ecuador and in the Iraq War, provided critical understandings of cultural incorporation and the issues influencing hardship.

This position brought Anthony to his current career: working as a men’s life coach. His various experiences with travel and international cultures gave him an understanding of the universally shared mental health concerns. Being able to participate in a broader discourse on disability and public welfare sparked a passion for men’s mental health advocacy that led him to this career.

"You learn about yourself, that’s one of the biggest things. Maybe you discover how close-minded you are, maybe you discover how fortunate you are, maybe you discover different things about yourself—or, maybe you discover what you really want to do with your life."

Anthony now lives in Colombia, practicing his Spanish and running his business online internationally. His decision to move to Colombia began with his love for Ecuador and the time he spent abroad as a Gilman Scholar. He strongly encourages more people to seek out international exchanges and strengthen cultural competency. Specifically, Anthony believes that more veterans should apply for international opportunities, especially those who have experienced deployment in hostile countries. Anthony says his time abroad gave him a perspective on compassion and difference. His first-hand observation of the economic, political, and educational struggles faced by various cultures provided the passion and foundational basis not only for his career, but his life choices as well.

The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program is a program of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. It provides U.S. undergraduate students receiving federal Pell Grant funding with scholarships to support their participation in study abroad and international internship programs worldwide.