Staff Spotlight: Johanna Fischer

Trip Leader
Johanna Fischer is originally from the Boston area and got her BA in Psychology and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Rochester in 2010. Since then, she has spent over three years living, teaching, traveling and leading trips throughout various parts of Latin America, including Ecuador, Mexico, Costa Rica and Peru. She loves speaking Spanish, hiking, and being totally immersed in Latino culture.

What position do you hold at ARCC and why do you like working there?

Johanna: I have worked with ARCC as a Trip Leader for their Costa Rica Language and Service Program and most recently as a Gap Instructor for Gap Latin America 2014. The opportunity to work with ARCC, particularly as a Gap Instructor, was an incredible privilege and challenge that gave me the chance to show a group of recent high school grads why service and cultural immersion are such amazing and powerful experiences.

I loved having the opportunity to help design the curriculum we used throughout the semester. ARCC helps to provide its leaders, and thus its students, with an amazing leadership development experience that really helps each individual to push their limits in a new environment, helping to achieve personal growth.

What is one thing you would tell any future gapper?

Johanna: Just do it! So many of my kids expressed that coming on the trip was one of the hardest things they had ever done - literally the act of getting on the plane was incredibly difficult for them. But despite any difficulties throughout, they all expressed that this was one of the best decisions they had ever made.

We grew as a group and as individuals and our eyes were opened to the realities of the world around us. If you're afraid, that's ok, and all the more reason to dive right in. Nothing worth doing is ever easy, but it's a fun and wild ride.

What is the level of cultural immersion your gappers receive?

Johanna: My gappers were impressed with the level of immersion on our course, and they consistently expressed how much they loved it the more immersed we were. We stayed with families three times throughout our course, as well as several community stays, and any lack of plumbing or electricity made the experience all the better.

Students were able to practice their Spanish with their host families, learn how to farm cacao in the jungle, and dance with their host parents around a fire at a community party. Without a doubt, we lived up close and personal with the communities we worked with.

What would you tell a parent who's reluctant to send their kid abroad?

Johanna: We live in an world that is increasingly connected, and ARCC Gap semester's are lead by instructors with on the ground experience who know how to facilitate an experience that will be safe, yet expansive, so that your child will be able to use what they learn on their trip and apply it towards their future.

Even if your child is challenged by the experience, the difficulties will make them a better person, a better student and a more engaged citizen. These life experiences expand the mind in ways that help gappers to find their path, increase their maturity and generally feel more inspired to seize life by the horns.

Plus, in seeing the realities of the outside world, they will probably develop a new appreciation for what you have provided for them - and that is never a bad thing!

What is one common misconception about taking a gap year?

Johanna: There is often a perception that any gap or community service program will not be doing "real" service that actually benefits the community. However, many of my students expressed surprise at the legitimacy of the service projects that we did - actually connecting with the community, working directly with it's members, we made a real difference in the lives of those people, and they made a difference in our lives.

ARCC has longstanding relationships with its service partners in countries all over the world, and ARCC takes its impact seriously. Gap students will work hard and they will think critically about what they are doing. A gap year is not a vacation - it is better because it is a true opportunity to grow and engage with people and environments that are totally new and different