Alumni Spotlight: Emily Shelton Holliday

Emily Shelton Holliday taught in Dobczycze, Poland in September,1996. She currently lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. At the time of her trip, she was a 34-year old attorney working for the State of Mississippi.

Local girl from Poland

Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with Global Volunteers in Poland?

Emily: The Global Volunteers opportunity in Poland met many of my needs and wishes for an adventure. First, it allowed me to work with children and adults in local communities who were eager to learn, and played to a basic strength - speaking English! Secondly, it was a two-week trip, with opportunity to lengthen the trip at either end, so I could stay and travel. I found two weeks to be a great length, allowing enough time to commit to students and also to explore the country. Thirdly, it gave me a chance to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau, which was a life-long goal.

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

Emily: We were housed in a centrally-located motel, which had formerly been a Communist Party retreat. The volunteers took all our meals communally, so we gathered for breakfast, were brought back for a hot lunch, then again for dinner. The entire town was small, probably 4000, but each volunteer was picked up daily by a town leader (the mayor, vice-mayors and school officials) and driven into a nearby community of about 300-400, where all the students walked to a community school. There were about 7 of these community-based schools serving our town, and one volunteer per school. My school was for first through eighth graders, and I taught each class every day.

In most classes, there was at least one student with command of English who could interpret for me, since I understood no Polish. There was an English teacher, with whom I worked 3 days a week. This teacher was a Polish engineer who could read from English textbooks but loved having a native speaker to help with pronunciation. The entire school was abuzz about my presence, and on my final day they held a festival and gave me handmade gifts which I still have today. The students were eager, bright, and without trappings of materialism. Most evenings, after dinner, our entire group was invited to the community center for some sort of cultural or social event, in which adults and families from the town presented a different program.

How has this experience impacted your future?

Emily: This is my favorite question - because I can demonstrate profound ways this program changed my life! I enjoyed my experience so much, and found such a kinship with my fellow volunteers, that we gathered 3-4 times in the year after our experience for reunions. These reunions were held in Minneapolis, as it was centrally located and 2 volunteers lived there.

My experience in Poland reinforced a desire to expand my horizons, both personally and professionally, and I found that I loved the Twin Cities area. It was clean, progressive, very "outdoorsy" for an urban area, and had a great economic base offering lots of jobs. I moved to Minneapolis, took a job at a company and worked my way up to management, making many friends and enjoying my work very much. I met my husband in Minnesota, and we have now been married over 7 years. Because of the friends I made in Poland, I expanded my world, my professional life, my career, and my life Even now, the experience continues to impact me, providing me with an appreciation for cultural differences and making me less likely to jump to conclusions or criticize based on perceived differences. I remember the wonder and appreciation of my students and the Polish people, and try to capture that daily in my world view.