Alexandra Futty has always been determined to not lead a “small life.” As a senior in high school she raised $10,000 and convinced her parents and Catholic school to allow her take a half year to go on a cultural exchange to India. “I grew up in a small town in Ohio that was very homogenous, very working class, very white, very Christian. And my whole life I have straddled the place between the sighted and non-sighted. I always felt this strong sensation that there was a larger world than what I experienced.”
Alexandra’s explorations continued as a senior in college when she went to Trinidad for two months to do independent research for her undergraduate thesis. After graduation, she spent a year in Trinidad on a Fulbright Student scholarship, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.
Jessica Chesbro first learned about the Foreign Service while she was living in a bamboo hut in a small farming village in the Philippines. At the time, she was serving in the Peace Corps and working with abused children.
“The Peace Corps experience was life-changing. I learned so much about life there, and really strengthened my passion both for travel and for helping people.”
It was also life-changing because it led to her current career with the Foreign Service.
Elizabeth Sammons did not know when she initially applied to the Peace Corps years ago that only 1 of 4 applicants was accepted and it was rare for a blind person to apply, but knowing that would not have stopped her. "I'm blind - so what? I have a lot to give, and I want to do it in the Peace Corps."
Surfing the internet, trying to find other career options, landed Frank Lester on the Peace Corps website and led him to its Deaf Program in Kenya. This immediately sparked Frank’s interest.
He always enjoyed teaching and working with Deaf youth, and this seemed like an exciting international experience, which still allowed him to apply his existing skills. That was all Frank needed to see. He applied, got accepted, and was ready for his flight to Africa, but little did he realize the impact this would have on his life and others.
Robert Thompson returned home to the United States from his volunteer experiences in India very humbled. He noticed the contrast between poverty and luxury, between being appreciative and taking something for granted.
“I loved seeing the smiles on people’s faces after they received something that was of great value to them, whether it was our time with them or new knowledge and skills they obtained.... I have come back with a new perspective on who I am and the things that matter most in life.”
Travis Gunn has been told that he is missing out on life, that his fear is allowing it to pass him by. He spent years trying to change himself. Others have spent years trying to “fix” him. And after four years, four continents, eight countries, and a countless number of cultures, he found what he needed most. And, it was his Global Studies degree from the Global College of Long Island University in New York that helped him achieve it.
A Hendrix College graduate in English Literature, Laura Podd traveled for a year to Guatemala, Ireland, Thailand, and Ukraine. And she had $25,000 on a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship to do it. Laura didn’t speak the local languages, but she took some Spanish courses and found local volunteers who translated into English. Those she met who spoke with heavy English accents took repetition to understand. Laura, who describes herself as having a mild hearing impairment, uses hearing aids and lip-reading well enough that most people do not immediately know that she has a disability unless she tells them.
Growing up, Haben Girma knew that international exchange was bound to be in her future. She had visited Eritrea and Ethiopia, places her parents called home before immigrating to the United States. So when Haben learned about BuildOn (www.buildon.org) as a teenager, she was determined to go. She was excited about BuildOn’s mission of empowering and educating youth by building schools in some of the world’s poorest remote communities and knew first-hand the importance of access to education.
Going overseas was something I had wanted to do since my early college days. I had always dreamed of being in the jungles of Africa or on a camel riding through a desert, but when the opportunity came to travel to Russia with Wheels for the World, I enthusiastically accepted the challenge.
Awake early, Melissa Jensen walked out of the circular yurt into Mongolia’s vast rural lands. “I’m from Wisconsin, so I’m used to cows. But I’m not used to brushing my teeth at an outside sink with primitive plumbing and being surrounded by cows,” says Melissa, who at the time was a college student from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. “That big culture change is what I love.” Melissa was volunteering to help rebuild a destroyed Buddhist temple in Mongolia, just three years after her second head injury near the end of high school.
One day while teaching as usual, I noticed new parents appeared with their Deaf daughter. After my colleagues and I met with the parents, I was shocked to discover that their daughter never had been to school or learned sign language. Instead, she stayed at home and worked on the farm. She was already 18 years old. It was heartbreaking for me.
For Christine Bélanger and her fellow volunteers, living with, working alongside, and learning from the local people and leaders of the host community in Guatemala elevated their experience from travel to citizen diplomacy exchange.
Maegan, who is Deaf, lives by her principle of speaking out against injustices. Her first experience abroad opened up her eyes to international disability advocacy, a field that she’s dedicated herself to ever since.
I always loved traveling around the United States with my family, but I decided that I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and travel abroad.
When David Berube stood in front of a classroom of twenty Thai students and asked if they knew anyone who had HIV or AIDS, not a single hand went up. He felt a rush of fear when Cee, his Thai translator, told the children that Berube had been HIV+ for ten years. “What was going to happen?” Berube wondered. “Were they going to be afraid of getting close to me now that they knew?” All eyes were on him, and for a moment, the room was silent.