Danielle Lane: "My parents believed that cultural immersion was the best form of education. So when I turned 10, my family stopped giving Christmas gifts and instead started traveling internationally for the holidays. What I didn’t know at the time was that this gift of global awareness would also contribute to my understanding and interest in peacebuilding. After a number of cultural exchange programs as well as studying, volunteering and working abroad in Russia, Turkey, Guatemala, Colombia, Europe and Cuba, I moved to Peru to become a volunteer coordinator for a small development agency. Working with an organization that trains volunteers to properly create and implement education, small business, public health, and environmental projects was the best decision I have ever made. Being part of the energy of volunteers, kids, adolescents and adults within the communities and the local government to make projects happen was beyond fulfilling. There is nothing more gratifying than the warmth of appreciation and gift of building a new family and place to call home."
Michael Zanchelli: "Approaching my junior year of college I had a decision to make: should I do the traditional semester abroad, or something different? I chose the latter and spent one month in Rwanda with a U.S.-based NGO as part of a cross-cultural experiential learning program. The program included international and local Rwandans in a week-long workshop on human rights and conflict transformation, as well as volunteer work at a local peacebuilding NGO. The direct, hands-on peacebuilding work was eye-opening. It gave me a glimpse of how a local organization runs, its constraints and what day-to-day work looks like for peacebuilders. More than the program itself, simply being out of my element had the greatest impact on me. I grew up in an upper-middle class family from the suburbs of Virginia and had never been outside of the U.S. To now be in Rwanda, sticking out like a sore thumb, was new, uncomfortable and important. I left Rwanda with a better understanding of how others experience me, and it better prepared me to help build peace. Ultimately, the experience was far less about what I contributed (which was very little, as a young, uninformed outsider), and far more about how I evolved, learned and grew as a result. I’m glad I made the decision I did."
Garrett Nada: "In January 2014, I traveled to Japan with several colleagues to participate in a 10-day exchange program, The Kakehashi Project – The Bridge for Tomorrow. During our visit, we gained a deeper understanding of the Japanese government’s approach to international affairs and peacebuilding, which is colored by Japan’s unique status as a former imperial power and the world’s first and only target of a nuclear attack. We heard from aid workers and foreign ministry officials about the Japanese method of delivering humanitarian assistance and restoring domestic security before developing political, judicial, and administrative systems and institutions. I was inspired by the Japanese peacebuilding practitioners we met because they are so utterly devoted to ensuring that the horrors of World War II are not repeated."
Emily Fornof: "When applying for my study abroad in Fes, Morocco, I had to fill out a preference survey for my homestay. I was ready for almost anything, but I had one red line: I wanted a western-style toilet. Upon arrival, I had a last-minute homestay switch and the school was unable to accommodate my original preferences, so I ended up in a home that only had a squat toilet. Suddenly, I felt completely out of my comfort zone, which turned out to be the best way to learn. My host family was so warm, and I was much more open to learning about their culture than I would have been if their home had resembled my own in the U.S. I also learned that squat toilets and bucket baths are not so bad; they are different from what I was accustomed to, but it turned out that something that seemed so different was not so scary."