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GoAbroad Staff Interview

What inspired you to work for Bright Light Volunteers?

I volunteered abroad with my children beginning when they were 5 and 7-years-old. Witnessing the way that service and travel has influenced them during their development was inspiring. I want to help all youth be able to participate in international travel and service and believe that has the power to make the world a brighter place for all!

Bright Light Volunteers participants
On-site with a volunteer during a school build in a very rural and remote part of Albania.

Describe a typical day at work.

Even though the job sounds like it is all adventure and traveling, most of the work for Bright Light Volunteers staff happens on the ground here in the U.S. There are always emails and inquiries to handle, data entry, post program interviews, insurance procurement for groups, and the HUGE amount of other logistical work that goes on in the background in order to run these sorts of programs in host communities around the world.

Why do you do what you do?

I have a heart that calls me to be of service and I have a genuine concern about the divisiveness, inequality, and cross-cultural hatred that I see in the world. I believe that through travel, education, and service that we can cultivate more peace, compassion, and tolerance in the world.

What is your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part of the job—hands down—is working on the ground with a student group and host community as a stateside BLV rep. Being able to help lead the program and group and witness the changes in perception and openness that they experience gives me the joy and energy needed to continue to further our organizational mission.

How do you use your education and international background in your current role?

As a graduate Magna Cum Laude of Southern Methodist University, I pursued international studies and cultural anthropology with a focus on Latin America. Having an educational background, as well as my previous international experience, gave me the perfect tools for my trade.

What are some current projects you are working on?

One big project at the moment is finalizing our new website! In our work, things change a lot and we needed to migrate to a platform that allows us to maintain and update our website at the click of a button.

Bright Light Volunteers participant
On-site with a high school group from California helping with the construction of several different community projects.

What advice would you tell your pre-travel self?

Don’t be scared of wandering because it is when wandering that one finds the opportunity to discover oneself. Speak the local language even if you can’t speak fluently…how will you ever speak fluidly if you don’t practice with those who know it best!

What makes Bright Light Volunteers special?

A large part of what makes Bright Light Volunteers special and unique is the manner in which we have formally combined a unique educational component into our global service learning programs.

Why should someone choose your organization over competitors?

Students that participate in our program receive three hours of transferable college credit through our educational partner Bethel University. They also receive a Certificate of Global Citizenship and the bronze level of the Presidential Service Award. We offer very comprehensive and fun programming that changes lives.

What hopes do you have for the future of Bright Light Volunteers?

I hope that we will continue to be able to bring in funding for our student scholarship program. Travel and service change students’ lives. Through our scholarship program we are helping to fund programs for students attending Title 1 schools.

Are there any developments with your organization that you would like to share with us?

We were recently a finalist in GoAbroad’s 2019 Innovation Awards for “Innovation in Diversity” and I was able to attend the event in D.C. We didn’t win in that category, but it was inspiring to be in a room full of people who feel as passionately about the power of travel to transform!

Bright Light Volunteers participants
With a teacher leading a group to help put in a playground at the children’s center we work with in Quito, Ecuador.

What makes your organization easy to market to potential participants?

The opportunity for dual enrollment college credit for high school students is a really great opportunity that differentiates our programs from the crowd.

What is the mission of Bright Light Volunteers and how do you continue to work toward it?

The mission of Bright Light Volunteers is to make the world a brighter place by providing educational service opportunities that foster the development of global leaders and citizens.

What do you hope participants take away from your programs?

I hope participants leave the program with a newfound sense of belonging and purpose. I hope it inspires them to create and partake in service initiatives in their home communities and that they, in turn, teach peace and tolerance to others…like a ripple effect of love and compassion.

If you could participate on one of your organization’s programs, where would you go and what would you do?

I still haven’t been able to participate in our newest Costa Rica program!!! We are working with several small community groups there that are doing really interesting work in upcycling trash collected on the beaches to help community members create art to sell to tourists and supplement their income while bringing awareness to the global garbage crisis.

What questions do participants often ask you, and how do you typically respond?

Is it safe? My response: We can’t guarantee safety (no one can) but our team has done and continues to do an incredible job mitigating any possible security/safety concerns. We use safe, contracted, and licensed drivers, we typically operate in small host communities, and we have trained program leaders with the group every step of the way.

Catherine Greenberg
Taking in the view while scouting out our program in Quito, Ecuador.

Why is it important for people to travel abroad and experience new cultures?

Mark Twain said it best: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness. In order to be able to cultivate peace in the world we must have a broader experience of what it means to be human in the world.”

What does meaningful travel mean to you?

I think all travel is meaningful. Any time someone tiptoes out of their cultural comfort zone it is a cause for celebration. It is difficult for people to be intolerant of others or for hatred to consume hearts when, by experience, one sees oneself reflected in others. We are a global community and travel only facilitates our ability to connect with one another.

What hopes do you have for the future of international education?

I hope that in the future international education is made an available option for all students, regardless of the financial barrier to participation. Unequal access to these sorts of educational programs creates a deeper divide in our communities at home and abroad. We are a global society and a global society demands for global citizenship education.

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