Alumni Spotlight: Mattie Leila Wyndham


Mattie is an Anthropology & Women's, Gender, and Sexualities Studies double major at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. Though a current Mainer, she was born and raised in Pawleys Island, South Carolina with a fierce love of grits and sweet tea.

Why did you pick this program?

I get this question all the time, and I still don't have a succinct answer. Essentially, I first found Thinking Beyond Borders (TBB) because of its scholarship program, which I knew was a necessity for me. When I found TBB, though, I knew it was perfect for me. I read the Global Gap Year itinerary on their webpage and was blown away by the balance of the program.

TBB's Global Gap Year is not just about "seeing the sights" and "having adventure." You have that, sure, but TBB is for students seeking a path to becoming an agent of change. The combination of travel, education, and community speaks to that.

What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?

I urge them to question why they are going and what their role will be once abroad. Thanks to TBB, I understand the harmful effects of some humanitarianism, voluntourism, and general travel. I have lots of friends here at Colby talking about study abroad or doing service work abroad, and I know some of them have not actively engaged in the type of conversations that raise these questions, but I personally try to have these conversations and pose these questions regularly.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Just one piece?! There's so much! Well, I think it helped me a lot to read the student blogs prior to the trip and connect with alum. I think it was a big advantage to my personal journey that I knew what I was getting into and had expectations for what was ahead of me. I knew the connections, community, and change work students before me had found, so I knew to take advantage of the opportunities TBB provided us.

With this in mind, I would also say get close to your program leaders! It is in an extraordinary gift, having three incredible, beautiful, dedicated, loving mentors who can help guide you through the challenging and transformative pieces of your Global Gap Year.

What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?

My favorite story? Well, I have funny stories, sentimental stories, humorously tragic stories. But I suppose for this interview, one of my favorite stories to tell was actually told to me by one of my best friends, Aaron.

In Ecuador, which was our first country, we were living with the indigenous Tsa'Chilla tribe in Bua, Ecuador (close to the city of Santo Domingo). Like most of us, their second language was also Spanish, so it made communication that much harder. One morning, Aaron was at breakfast alone with his host father, Fausto - the community shaman.

Attempting to make conversation, Aaron picked up the jam from the table, which was branded "Snob," and proceeded to inform Fausto that in English, "snob" means "un person estúpido con mucho dinero" ("a stupid person with a lot of money"). Hearing this and not fully understanding Aaron's attempt at Spanish, Fausto nodded and silently removed the jam from the table. The jam was never seen again.

I love this story firstly because I find it absolutely hilarious, especially knowing Aaron and Fausto as people. Two pretty eccentric dudes.

But I also love this story because it reminds me of the warmth and relation we cultivated with our host families, especially in Bua. Across linguistic and cultural lines, we found deep connection with people from such different ways of life.

These lessons in love and community continues to guide me over a year later.

More on Mattie's transformational experience with TBB:

If you want to be radically transformed and guided into becoming the person you were meant to be, take a gap year with Thinking Beyond Borders. This program is not for everyone, but those who do it learn to love radically and question intensely.

I truly learned what love looks like on TBB. I learned how to love myself and how to love others. I developed the capacity for higher order empathy and for honest forgiveness. I discovered an ability to challenge my assumptions and look inward. Beautifully, I have come into college with a sense of self, which most of my peers cannot say. TBB helped me develop my own set of values; I am who I am because of TBB.

At 17, 18, 19 you are at a critical junction in your life with so many options ahead of you. I hope everyone has a chance to experience the kind of love I found on TBB.