Okay. So it's no secret that I'm a big fan of study abroad. You could say I'm even a super fan. Infact, I've had this one statement in my job application coverletters since I started applying for study abroad jobs years ago and it's never changed in all these years:
"International experiences are the highlights of academic careers and the defining points in young people's lives."
Even though I haven't had to apply for a study abroad job in a long time, this statement still rings true for me every day...especially days like today when I'm reminded of just how darn awesome study abroad really is.
Here's the story: In the fall of 2008, I sailed around the world on the MV Explorer as a staff member with Semester at Sea. [Awesome program if you can swing the cost - check out their financial aid and scholarship opportunities for study abroad.] For those of you who aren't familiar with Semester at Sea, it's a ship-based study abroad program that circumnavigates the globe visiting 10-12 countries - typically under-developed or developing - each semester. Basically, it's like a mini college with a full faculty, staff, and of course, students. Along with the crew, the ship typically has about 2,000 people on board each fall and spring semester.
Anyway...while working on the ship that awesome semester abroad, I befriended the Photographer and Videographer for the voyage, Brittany App and Garrett "Gar" Russell. Two amazingly caring and fun people who, as an added bonus to just generally being awesome people, are both very talented artists. After visiting those 10 countries that semester, Brittany and Garrett were haunted and inspired by the poverty we witnessed. You can read about it in the classroom, you can see it on the news, you can listen to other people's tales...but you never really understand the vast difference between the haves and have-nots of the world until you see, smell, hear, taste, and experience it first hand.
And that's what happened to Brittany and Garrett. They documented their experiences on Semester at Sea through photos and videos...and they came home after those four months wanting to do something more - which is what we hope all study abroad expeirences inspire people to do - come home and do something better, create something better, be someone better.
The result? Cycling for Water, a fundraising and documentary project to raise money and awareness about the lack of healthy, pure drinking water around the world. Last fall - just two years after we sailed around the world together - Brittany and Garrett set off on a cross country bike trip spanning the USA from San Diego, CA, to St. Augustine, FL. They documented the journey on their blog and on Facebook.
As someone who sits at a desk most days grinding out as a study abroad staffer trying to make a difference and get more students abroad, seeing Brittany and Garrett's images and reading their descriptions of the experience reminded me that the little bit I do each day to make study abroad better, more affordable, and more accessible will hopefully result in a few more Brittanys and Garretts in the world - doing cool stuff, making a difference, and loving life.
Of course this wasn't Brittany or Garrett's first "rodeo," so to speak. They're both ridiculously well traveled and supporting various causes all the time. An incredible reminder that the journey and the destination can inspire our souls and feet to action.
Check out their project and watch the prelude to their journey below: