Alumni Spotlight: Meg Stolberg

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

Meg: My program had different volunteer activities in Bolivia and Ecuador. In Ecuador, I worked in a village school with two other volunteers. We were there for four hours in the morning. For the first two weeks, we taught English to the students, ranging in age from second-graders to seventh-graders. The lessons were elementary as we taught them common words and phrases. During the second two weeks, we as volunteers were given more freedom because the teachers at my school had a vacation. We then didn't teach English but instead taught about geography, fruits, the environment, careers, and our cultures.

In Bolivia, we worked at a community center in a small, hillside town. We reforested an area by a river to prevent trash from being thrown into the water. We also made small, low-maintenance gardens for the community to use to get increased vegetable nutrition. Finally, we planted fruit trees to provide nutrition and a way for community members to sell surplus fruit.

Ten years from now, what's the one thing you think you'll remember from the trip?

Meg: I think ten years from now I will remember my time with TBB as the time where I felt I truly became a capable adult. Living in different cultures, dealing with new challenges each day, working in struggling communities, and discussing social, community, and global development issues forced me out of my comfort zone and into a place of deeper understanding and greater capabilities.

Has your worldview changed as a result of your trip?

Meg: My worldview changed immensely because of my gap year. The trip led me to challenge and re-evaluate the assumptions I held about the world and different cultures in it. Today, I actively try not to make assumptions about communities.

Also, my view about international development has changed because of my gap year. I realized that traditional aid techniques don't work to help communities. I should support them in solidarity instead of trying to save them by funneling money into an ineffective system. Overall, living outside of the US changed my worldview because it revealed to me aspects of communities that no traditional classroom could have showed me.

What was the most interesting cultural difference you encountered?

Meg: For me, the most interesting cultural difference was in Bolivia. In my host family there, lunch was the biggest and longest meal, served in the middle of the day with a soup, a main course, and fruit for desert. What was so striking about it was that every person in the entire extended family took time out of their day and work to attend these meals. There were uncles sitting next to nieces and grandparents with grandchildren for two hours everyday. Each lunch, I looked around and realized how invaluable this family time was for this community, and how beneficial it was for the family. In the US, we rarely are able to take that time each day, but seeing my Bolivian family inspired me to value family more and especially the time I do get to spend with the members of my own family.

Where would you most like to travel to next?

Meg: For my next travel experience, I would like to travel actually anywhere. What my trip first semester with Thinking Beyond Borders taught me is that each culture offers a wealth of information and experience that can be of value to me in my own community.

I hope to see New Zealand and Australia to understand the natural beauty there and the wisdom of the Aboriginals. I also hope to study abroad in Europe in college so that I will be able to travel to the various countries there and see their historical and current similarities and differences. Overall, TBB inspired in me a desire to travel not only to see the sights but to learn for the people and value the places.