EnvisionFulbright: Combining Travel and Service for a Meaningful Adventure

EnvisionFulbright: Combining Travel and Service for a Meaningful Adventure

I daydream often about where my next travel adventure will be. I read travel blogs, talk to coworkers about their vacations, and browse longingly through friends’ and family’s photos of their journeys around the world. Just a year ago I was living abroad in Mexico on a Fulbright grant, and still I find myself constantly plotting new ways to travel after only a year back in the U.S. While I love my life and work at home in my own country, a part of me is always keeping an eye out for another opportunity to visit someplace new. I’m sure this wanderlust is familiar to many of us.

My wanderlust, though, doesn’t quite fit the mold. It’s not just that I want to see and experience new places. I don’t want to be principally a tourist or a consumer of foreign countries. I want to dive deeply into these new places, into their communities and challenges and culture. This kind of travel isn’t solely about pleasure and adventure; or rather, the pleasure and adventure of travel have become, in my mind, inextricably tied to something new: the desire to do volunteer service abroad. To give back to the foreign communities that host me.

On my Fulbright program in 2014-2015 I taught English at a rural technical college in Mexico that served all low-income first-generation college students. This experience gave me a thirst not only for international travel but also for helping out in the places I traveled to. The idea of journeying as a tourist to a beach resort or a swanky cosmopolitan hotel slowly lost its luster over my stay in Mexico and was replaced by a desire to participate more meaningfully in the communities I visited.

It can be difficult to find the right combination of travel and service. When the travel bug hit me again this spring, I looked at a few different organizations that led volunteer service trips abroad. Some were very expensive, and others didn’t seem to have a clear mission. I didn’t know anyone who had done these trips and I felt unsure of how to gauge the quality of the many groups that advertised.

Luckily, a friend from the Fulbright Association approached me with a great opportunity. EnvisionFulbright– a partnership between the Fulbright Association and the non-profit RestoringVision to provide reading glasses to underdeveloped communities abroad– offers one-week medical service trips around the world for select Fulbright alumni who demonstrate a passion for travel and service. I decided to apply for an EnvisionFulbright trip to the Dominican Republic led by Timmy Global Health, a non-profit that expands access to healthcare internationally.

Once I was accepted to the program, both EnvisionFulbright and Timmy Global Health were extremely helpful in getting me ready for my trip to the Dominican Republic. While I was poised to be the only non-medical professional on my medical brigade in the DR (I work in education), I felt included in the group and was assigned a vital role on the trip: given my fluency in Spanish, my job was to be a Spanish translator in a mobile clinic. I would be joined by a group of about 25 medical professionals who I would travel and live with for 8 days, all of us united in a dream to explore a new country and do good while we were there.

Our Timmy Global Health medical brigade consisted of 15 medical school students, 5 doctors, a nurse, a pharmacist, and a public health coordinator who worked together to bring a mobile health clinic to different impoverished communities on the island. Each morning we woke up to a home-cooked Dominican breakfast, packed up our mobile clinic, and drove out into remote areas of the island where communities are in great need of free healthcare. Because Timmy Global Health has so many community partners on the island and has built a strong local presence it is able to offer these clinics every month, giving patients continual access to medical care in a place where they would ordinarily have extremely limited healthcare or none at all. Over the course of the trip we saw over 500 patients in our clinic, distributed suitcases full of vital medicine and medical supplies, and got to know many different communities and each other intimately.

I felt honored and excited every day of my trip to be working to improve the quality of life in some of the DR’s most disadvantaged communities, and in turn the communities I visited gave me the gift of understanding the real people and culture of the Dominican Republic. I became friends with local Haitian doctors and volunteers who taught me how to speak Creole and introduced me to local music and dance. I ate traditional Dominican cuisine and swam in the warm, clear ocean. I lived in a palm-frond thatched cabin among lizards and giant beetles. I learned about the rich and troubled history of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and thought deeply about the future of that beautiful island as well as my own country’s future. These experiences were the kind we can only achieve through purposeful, service-oriented travel that connects us deeply to the people and places we visit as foreigners.

I would recommend Timmy Global Health and EnvisionFulbright trips to any and all who are seeking a meaningful adventure abroad. A special thanks to EnvisionFulbright for selecting me for this opportunity, Timmy Global Health for funding and facilitating my trip, and 7elements for housing me at their eco lodge on the island.

 


Guest post by Meg Ramey

July 27, 2016 0

Reflections on my Fulbright Service Trip to Serbia

Reflections on my Fulbright Service Trip to Serbia

“You need to ‘sling’ the mortar into the space, not shove it in. Here, let me show you.” Thus began my introduction to historically accurate stone structure repair. As a Fulbright alum (the country of Georgia in 2005), I was used to being flexible and thinking creatively about situations, but this was a great new learning experience.  If my Fulbright experience was cake, this trip was icing on the cake.

Fulbright Alumni Service Trips are a different kind of traveling. Although other tour companies might promise educational touring, these Service trips offer a unique blend of education, service learning, historical monuments and touring of the countryside. In addition, we were paired up with students who were participating in a Regional Restoration Camp, run by Cultural Heritage without Borders (CHwB), a Swedish nonprofit. Students and young professionals from all over the Balkans attend these camps. For these students, CHwB offers an intense academic experience learning about design principles and historical restoration techniques while working with artisans, architects, civil engineers and so on. While part of the purpose of the camps is indeed historical restoration, another underlying purpose is to promote peace in the region. Having these students live and work (in English no less) with fellow students from around the region lets them learn and better understand their fellow Balkan neighbors.

We were to work in Eastern Serbia in the wine cellars of Rogljevacke (near the Danube River). The students actually lived in the wine cellar region while we were based in nearby Negotin, Serbia. CHwB mixed up the faculty and students into four groups: the roof crew, the stoners (my group), the mud crew and the survey crew. Note the safety equipment.

Our task was stone work. First you must sift the stone/sand mixture to isolate out the sand. Sifting took much of one day. Then you begin the mortar process by throwing water onto the stones (so the mortar will stick). And then comes the actual ‘slinging’ of the mortar into the joints.

Each group had their own set of chores. For the mud group, first you mix the water and straw into the dirt and get it to the right consistency. Once the mud is mixed, then you wet the walls with a paintbrush and water so the mud will adhere. Then you have the fun chore of putting the mud onto the walls by hand. I do believe the students and faculty alike enjoyed that part.

In addition to working with CHwB, the Fulbright trip emphasized touring the wonders of the country. As an ancient civilization, Serbia had Roman ruins, beautiful cities, and lovely monasteries and nunneries. There was even a very early civilization, the earliest in Europe (about 9500 BCE) located at Lepenski Vir on the Danube.

Lastly, the trip included soft diplomacy through visits with government officials, faculty members at various institutions, embassy officials, ministry officials and fellow Fulbrighters across the country. Takeaways from these visits include: All of them emphasizing that the war mongering past of Serbia is in the past; a true desire to be good citizens of the world; a wish for closer ties with the U.S. and U.S. businesses; a desire to join the EU, a love of their country and a desire to share it with all of us.

Overall, I had no idea what the true impact of this trip would be on me.  I had no idea it would be so much fun to spend two weeks with fellow Fulbright alumni, that it would be so much fun to learn historical restoration techniques, that I would enjoy learning the history of the area, and that I would so enjoy the country and its people.  Fulbright alumni are so easy to travel with, so much in love with learning and so ready to welcome you into their fold.

I would highly recommend all Fulbright alumni (and their partners) to travel with a Fulbright Association Service Trip. It is a wonderful way to see a country; to help that country on its economic, political and social growth patterns and to meet a group of fellow alumni that will forever be your close friends.

 


Guest post by Kathy Parkison

July 8, 2016 0

Reflections on My Trip to Albania: Interview with Gale Workman

Reflections on My Trip to Albania: Interview with Gale Workman

Gale Workman has traveled to over 70 countries but she had never been to Albania. So when she saw that the Fulbright Association had an upcoming Service Corps Project in Albania, she signed up to join fellow alumni in Gjirokastra, a World Heritage Site.

Working with Cultural Heritage Without Borders, the team of Fulbright alumni was trained in restoring 400-year-old Ottoman-era buildings. They worked alongside local artisans, architects, archaeologists, mayors, religious leaders, and tradespeople.

According to Gale, “We worked very hard and our days were sometimes physically tiring, but it was always mentally energizing. We really got to know the people who live and work there… a fascinating way to experience the Albanian culture firsthand.”

“I didn’t realize how much fun it’d be to spend two weeks on this team,” Gale continued. “When you travel with fellow alumni, there is no ‘get-to-know-you’ time… you pick up immediately.”

The experience was “not like tourism of any other kind,” remarked Gale. In fact, she stayed in touch with the team’s tour guide and recently learned that, thanks to her encouragement, he was applying to U.S. colleges. “He asked me for a letter of recommendation. My experience being able to mentor him has had a real impact on his life.”

“If you like working in teams who care about making the world a better place, enjoy sharing meals an ideas with people from different cultures and want to touch the future, this is the way to do it.” Consider joining Fulbright alumni on one of our upcoming Service Tours! Visit our Travel page to learn about new trips.

 


Gale Workman, a professor emerita at Florida A&M University, went on her Fulbright to Canada in 2007.

June 1, 2016 0