Alumni Spotlight: Sarah Burke

I was a Film Studies student at Western University Canada where I was on the cheerleading team in first year, and the figure skating team second to fourth year. I was born in Toronto and grew up in the GTA. I was a competitive figure skater for a long time and lived in Seoul, South Korea after graduating from university before starting my career in technology sales.

Surf for Life volunteer

Why did you pick this program?

Sarah: Surf For Life is a very popular volunteer trip at my place of work ( I love to travel and have 6 paid volunteer days to use at work each year and Surf For Life was a fantastic opportunity.

What is the most important thing you learned abroad?

Sarah: The impact I can have on a rural community in a developing country. A large part is the fundraising, but helping to build a school that will change the lives of children from this point on is pretty incredible. Also, the connections you make with the families there you will remember forever (and I hope they do, too).

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

Guatemalan sunset

Sarah: That Surf For Life is way better than any all inclusive/beach vacation I have ever been on. It is about the same cost (way less if you do a good job fundraising), a better experience (I slept in a beach hut/tree house on a secluded beach) and so much more rewarding.

What made this experience unique and special?

Sarah: I had never been Guatemala, a secluded area of a country like Guatemala or stayed in a surf camp or beach hut before. It was all quite unique. The volunteering was as well since I learned new skills while helping to build the school, I learned a lot about their way of life and I learned a lot about the kids and their families.

What made this trip meaningful to you, or how did this trip change your perceptions or future path?

Mayan children

Sarah: Surf For Life gives you perspective, and without perspective you have nothing. You come back feeling grateful for what you have and happy that you could have a positive influence in another community halfway across the globe. There isn't really a way to describe that, but it is the type of thing you tell your grand kids about and remember your entire life.

Were you scared/nervous to go into a rural community in a developing country?

Sarah: This was something I thought about and coming from a family of worry warts I definitely got some push back from loved ones. Once I got to the destination any stress I had about the trip, and any stress I was holding onto from home, just disappeared. We were staying at a camp with people from all over the world and the owners of the camp were expats as well. I felt so safe and relaxed and on top of that the community we were in was so happy to have us there that I couldn't imagine anything happening. You have to be smart, don't get me wrong, but I never at any point felt unsafe or nervous at the camp.