Alumni Spotlight: Kelsey Houtkooper

Kelsey is a full time female student from El Paso Texas. She is a graduating senior at St. Mary's University in San Antonio Texas.

Female Headshot

Where was your best photo taken and what was it of?

Kelsey: My best photo taken was in the streets of Amman close to Souk Jara (a small market of craftsman). The photo was of children playing and interacting with us. They only spoke one line of English which was "hello! How are you?" When we responded they just smiled, and when we asked if they knew English their smiles got bigger. There was a definite language barrier but the smiles were all that they needed to welcome us to their home of Amman.

What is one piece of advice you'd give future students traveling with your program?

Kelsey: I would tell students to not be afraid to leave their comfort zone. Studying abroad is about experiencing life from another's eyes, stepping into their shoes and living their conflict, their happiness and their everyday routine. There is nothing to fear but your own stereotypes; you can break the cycle of discrimination by not only experiencing but understanding and accepting another human being different from yourself.

What was the best place you visited outside of your home-base city?

Kelsey: The program took us on a few different excursions. But one weekend was the most memorable I will ever have. We spent the night in a Bedouin camp, first riding camels through the Wadi Rum desert, learning traditional dances and lastly, sleeping underneath the most vivid and immaculate stars. After a beautiful nights rest, we went to Petra where we got lost amongst one of the wonders of the world. Being personally guided by the Bedouins and riding donkeys up to a movie like view of an ancient world.

What made this experience unique and special?

Kelsey: This experience was unlike any other because it took us through the steps of reconciliation from the past to a conflict greatly present modern day. We went from studying a conflict in London, to living the resolution and the after math in Northern Ireland to eventually staying in Jordan, which itself is very peaceful and safe but borders countries in conflict. You experience first hand how a conflict can affect lives and generations, as well as the difficulty of finding a solution.

Camel ride

Do you think your program changed you as a person?

Kelsey: I do believe this program changed me as a person because I already had a background in the idea of inter faith dialogue as well as an idea of what it takes for conflict resolution to occur but to actually hear the stories of the people and listen to the people bordering the conflicts or right in the eye of the conflict was remarkable. It made me realize that it is possible for there to be peace while at the same time made me question if it will still be possible if my generation stands and watches or combats this with violence.