Did you study, volunteer, or intern abroad? If so, where and what inspired you to go?
Aveleigh: I studied abroad in The Netherlands during my undergrad and interned in China after I had graduated. I was inspired both times by the opportunity to delve into a new culture and by the feeling that I got when I had figured out how to take care of myself in a completely new place.
Through both of these experiences, I felt like my mind, skills and capabilities stretched far beyond what they could have in the same amount of time if I had stayed at home. Needless to say, my study/intern abroad experiences were some of the best I’ve ever had!
What is one thing you would tell any future scholar?
Aveleigh: One thing I would tell future scholars is to listen to the old cliché to ‘step outside of your comfort zone.’ When you’re immersed in a new culture, it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed at some points and to retreat into something you find comfortable (like spending your evening reading alone, calling home or talking to the people you already know).
It’s ok to do things that are comfortable when you need to, but taking every opportunity you can to step outside of comfortable will make your experience so much better overall. Most of my favorite memories abroad involve trying something that initially made my nervous. Like the time I ate a deep-fried scorpion at a street stall in China!
How are the scholars supported when they arrive at their project?
Aveleigh: Scholars who join one of ThinkImpact’s Institutes are surrounded by constant and continual support before and after they arrive in their host country. Not only does the full-time country staff of ThinkImpact provide the resources they will need to be successful, but they are always available if a Scholar has a problem or a question.
Moreover, the host communities and families that welcome the Scholars act as a second support system. The people who host our scholars are very happy to answer endless questions and to do whatever they can to help the Scholars understand and feel comfortable in their new home. Beyond this, scholars get a lot of support from each other, because they are going through the experience together.
What responsible volunteering traits does ThinkImpact represent?
Aveleigh: ThinkImpact definitely values responsible volunteering. We’ve evolved over time to be more and more responsible in how we approach the communities we work with, and in how our model works. Although scholars are volunteering their time, it’s also so much more than that.
Firstly, they come with a goal of learning about and connecting with their host community. Secondly, they aim to identify the assets and resources already present in the community. And Lastly, they are working together with members of the community to design business models that can create income and that can last. I think this approach to ‘volunteering’ is one of the most powerful models that exist.