Today I spoke to the Sauk Prairie Rotary Club in Praire du Sac about the Ambassadorial Scholarship, Project Japale Goune, and the gobs of gratitude I have for Rotary. I couldn’t have asked for a better day to travel – the snow had been cleared from the roads but still hung on everything else. Farmers fields, huge oak trees, red cow barns and abandoned tractors along the way were mere silhouettes, covered with snow. A little internet research on Prairie du Sac informs me its a good place for eagle watching and that a nearby resident donated 2.2 acres of land for a new public library. Books and bird watching on the Wisconsin River. Sounds like heaven to me.
The Rotary Club was 12 or so strong today, but there were also some local high school students from the National Honor Society who came to learn about the scholarship opportunities of Rotary. The moment I learned they were coming, the tone of my speech completely changed – and for the better. My goal shifted from selling myself (my writing, Project Japale Goune) to inspiring those students. The times that I have studied and lived abroad were absolutely the most formative years of my life. If I was able to even plant a seed of interest in any of those students today, it was worth it.
I tried to remember if there was a defining moment, or speaker, in my life who made me want to travel. All I can remember is me and a good friend in High School vowing never to be those lame girls who decided that can’t study abroad because they couldn’t leave their boyfriends. At the time, neither of us had boyfriends, but at least we knew how it would go.
My first semester abroad, however, I lived with an amazing woman, Charlotte. Only a few years older than me, but her traveling experience was light years ahead of mine. She had taken a year off after high school to travel by herself in Africa. (Africa!) She had already studied in Italy, were she had amassed wine savvy and love affairs. In fact, she had arrived in London on a flight from Nepal – simply a side trip she couldn’t refuse. She decorated our apartment with a hand woven rug she had bought in the foothills of the Himalayans and gifted all of us roommates the colorful batik purses. (I, on the other hand, had packed mostly Gap clothes and Indigo Girls cds.) She instantly became a woman whose life I wanted to model. Her attitude, an unapologetic belief that dreams comes true and that there is always something positive to focus on, is one that I have tried to embody since.
Charlotte and I have remained friends; our lives have intersected in places all over the world, and today I am grateful for that. Having a friend who you consider to be a role model is a true gift.