My dream is to see everyone have an opportunity to leave their homeland and immerse themselves in another culture. While an experience abroad isn’t necessary for everyone, it should be available to everyone. A meaningful experience abroad has exponential positive effects. I know from first-hand experience. I grew up in a Midwestern, suburban setting and played competitive hockey up until college. Visiting other countries wasn’t really a dream of mine, except when it meant heading over the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit to play hockey in Ontario. That was my dream, make it to Junior Hockey in Canada and eventually become a professional hockey player. Well, that didn’t happen. Soon, I found myself enrolled in a Pre-Dentistry program in my first year at university. Why? I’m not sure why. I was simply excited to be “on my own”. Fortunately, my parents allowed me the privilege to travel to visit my cousin who was studying abroad in Florence,Italy in 1998. I had plenty of time to walk the city, meet expatriates from the US and other countries, and simply take in the culture. It was my first true experience abroad (sorry,Canada). Needless to say, that “going abroad” experience changed my life, for the first time.
While in Florence during my morning walk to Forte di Belvedere, I decided to change my university major to something that involved visiting other countries. What could I do? Well, I knew some “classroom Spanish” and I was always intrigued by the cultures of Latin America, past and present. Soon after returning from Italy, I changed my major to International Studies of Latin America, much to the dismay of my parents. In order to graduate I needed to study abroad in a Latin American country. The only programs that were available were in Mexico and Ecuador. I knew very little about Ecuador, but I chose it. That “going abroad” experience changed my life for a second time. One day while walking home to my homestay family’s house, I paused and looked around me at the beautiful landscape of the Andes Mountains from the colonial city of Cuenca and I realized that I wanted to stay in Ecuador. The amazing diversity of the cultures, landscapes, flora, and fauna of this country that is about the size of the state of Colorado were simply breathtaking. I was enthralled by my experiences.
Fortune would have it that I would soon be assigned to do my Peace Corps volunteer service in Ecuador and after that I would become country director of a very influential social entrepreneurship incubator in Ecuador. One of our company’s major areas of work was bringing students and professionals from all over the world to participate in “not-so-average” study abroad programs. Participants would work in teams on economic, public health, and environmental projects while living with local families also enjoying a mixture of classroom settings and tourism. It was intense for every participant, and every one took home an unforgettable experience. Most of those participants credited their experience in Ecuador as a major influence in their lives as they began their careers and/or extended their educational horizons. I soon began to feel that this type of experience shouldn’t be just for students or young professionals, it should be for everybody.
A few years ago, I returned to the States for a Peace Corps Fellow scholarship to get my MBA and then met a lovely girl from Vermont who convinced me to move to this great state. I now lead “volun-tours” for a variety of groups (not just students) to Ecuador and we dive into the culture while working on projects that directly benefit the clinic that we support and the thousands of people that the clinic treats.
These programs have obvious benefits for the people and environment of Ecuador, but what must not be overlooked is the benefits that the participants receive from these experiences.
By learning about the country of Ecuador, I discovered a new affinity for my home country. By sharing countless meals with many Ecuadorian families, I developed a new love for my family. By meeting people from all over the world, I became grateful for my friends back home. By collaborating on projects that would lead to benefit the people, economy, and environment of Ecuador, my perspective changed on what a “career” was meant to be. There was a paradigm shift. I decided long ago to focus my career efforts on the main tenet of social entrepreneurship: the Triple Bottom Line of People, Planet, and Profit. I have led trips in Ecuador for high school and university students looking to enhance their studies, professionals looking to gain valuable experience and credentials, retirees, surgeons seeking to provide surgeries to people who normally wouldn’t have access, Rotarians, and people who simply want to have an amazing experience while contributing to the well-being of communities in need. Every individual returns to their home with a unique memory that will last a lifetime. I think this is an excellent opportunity for Vermonters to expand their horizons.
Businesses, educational institutions and a variety of entities both by choice and by demand, are prioritizing corporate social responsibility efforts and discovering that by creating a focus on a triple bottom line of People, Planet and Profit, their ventures are yielding better results. My goal is to contribute to this movement by preparing participants to enter (or re-enter) the workforce already aligned with the social missions that many organizations are embracing. The programs I lead are intended for anybody interested in gaining first-hand experience in learning about and collaborating with communities and organizations of Ecuador that are developing sustainable change. My “at-home” desire is to see communities and individuals of Vermont creating lasting exchange experiences with the communities and individuals of Ecuador. Surprisingly we have plenty in common. I am very passionate about developing a connection between the communities of Chimborazo province (and eventually other parts of Ecuador) with communities in Vermont to improve entrepreneurial ecosystems in both places. I see plenty of similarities with current generations not getting the most out of traditional practices (and tons of cows and sheep in Chimborazo), small towns losing economic stability, next generations disinterest in agriculture due to lack of income, etc. I have also seen a few shining stars in Vermont and Ecuador that really want to evolve the future of agriculture in their regions.