Staff Spotlight: James Simmons

Co-Executive Director of Programs


James began his career with Carpe Diem as an Overseas Educator, guiding young adults to various regions of the world for 3 month semesters abroad. He is currently a Program Director with the organization, supporting Overseas Educators, designing/refining program components, and deepening partnerships within country coordinators.

What is your favorite travel memory?

My favorite time abroad was an 11 month journey to India. I lead a 3 month semester with Carpe Diem. Afterward, I took a 3 day train to southern India and stayed in Hampi for nearly 2 months. Bouldering, rock climbing, and spending 45 days in a 3 walled structure working on music and meditation.

I then went North and spent several months in the Himalaya, volunteering on a permaculture site; riding Royal Enfield motorcycles; spending time in Ladakh; and a solo 100+ kilometer hike through the barren heights of Zanskar. This was topped off by a serendipitous stay in Padum, where I sat with local Zanskari yak herders and received teachings from His Holiness the Dalai Lama for 3 days. It was a journey of a lifetime!

How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?

My awareness of being a global citizen has increased significantly. Sure...these semesters are about adventure and challenge and growth. Yet much of this comes in a form very different than originally anticipated. We begin to feel the joy, wonder, and responsibility of being part of a larger story; the story of humanity. We begin to see how privileged we are here in the U.S., and to begin asking ourselves "how can I use this privilege as a means to be of benefit to others?"

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

I can't think of just one! The main ingredient to an epic story is transformation! Has there been some sort of catharsis; some catalyst for a major shift in patterns; an emergence of something new, exciting, and meaningful. I can say that I've heard many stories from returners that meet these criteria.

If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?

Morocco and Spain! Why?
I think that there is a need, and yes...a responsibility for the Western world to engage with North African/Middle Eastern cultures, and to see the influences thereof in places like Andalusia, Spain. The people of Morocco are incredibly hospitable, curious, and excited to have students visit their culture. The landscape in Morocco is extraordinary (Sahara, Atlas Mtns, beaches).

There are many issues being highlighted in this region right now, including women's empowerment, mobilization of youth, human migration (village to city; Sub Sahara to Europe), and the effects of modernization on traditional customs and values. And of course, Spain is an amazing place to see the blending of European and North African cultures.

What makes your company unique?

Community is a hallmark of this organization, from our Portland based HQ team, to our Overseas Educator community, and a major theme of our semester groups as well. We believe that this world will change through engagement on a local level, by everyday people who choose to work collaboratively to solve today's impending list of crisis. The empowerment and support that the students feel through this emphasis on community is observable, and leads to a more successful integration of the student into a community at home, University, or abroad if that's what they choose.

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

The understanding that, whether in business or in a group setting in remote regions of the world, relationships are the basis of change and growth. We have amazing relationship among our U.S. based Carpe community, as well as with our overseas friends and contacts, students, and student families. And we value those relationships above all else.