I was studying global ecology and anthropology, and the world was literally my classroom.
During my junior year of college I traveled with a group of 18 students around the world. We went to England, India, Thailand, Malaysia, New Zealand and Colombia in 9 months. The countries and cultures were astounding. The curriculum was real-time and place-based. Our faculty became role models, and our group was a family. Like every known cliché in the book, I came home feeling awed, humbled, confident and inspired to engage my life and learning in new and bolder ways.
While I was planning to return to Boston University to finish my senior year, I got a call from an old friend who was moving to California to turn abandoned city blocks into organic gardens that employed the homeless. He was putting together a team of volunteers.
I had returned home from my travels with big questions about equity, sustainability and action, and this opportunity felt like my answer. So, despite my parents' hesitations, I decided to take a gap year, and bought a 1-way ticket to San Francisco.
Over the next few years I learned about organic farming, helped start a non-profit, finished my anthropology degree, explored documentary filmmaking, and worked in nonprofit management. I could see my learning and contribution accelerate when it was interest-driven and hands-on, so I continued to follow my curiosity. I met incredible people, traveled up and down California, and although my path was less traditional than many of my former high school and college peers, I was happier and more motivated than ever.
In the summer of 1994, I guided a group of high school students on a service learning trip to Belize. It was a tri-leadership with a group of 24 students. The trip was challenging, overwhelming and exhausting ... and I was completely hooked. I applied to lead my next trip as soon as possible. Again, I heard the worried voices of my parents: "Can you make a career of this?" I wasn't entirely sure, but I knew that I wanted to try.
As it turns out, I could and I did, and I have been working with high school, gap year and college students in international and experiential programming ever since that fateful summer 29 years ago!
My first decade was devoted to leading programs overseas. I brought students to Africa, Asia and Central America. I honed my skills as a logistician, problem solver, nurse, cultural ambassador, general contractor, conflict mediator, co-leader, financial planner and mentor. The next decade was a time of making bigger change on an organizational level, so I hung up my backpack and moved into an office, where I expanded my skills in ethical and sustainable program development, risk management protocol, staff hiring and training, admissions procedures, and experiential education curriculum.
In 2010 I transitioned into gap year counseling, the perfect culmination of everything I have done to-date. I am an Accredited Gap Year Consultant, co-chair of the Alumni Committee, and former Board Member of the Gap Year Association. I have been a keynote speaker at the USA Gap Year Fairs since 2011. I promote the gap year on a national level at conferences and schools, travel the world to vet quality placements, advise new programs on strategic development ... and BEST of all work closely with families to curate the gap year options that will best meet the needs, interests, goals and budget of each courageous gap year student.
I am a facilitator at heart, and feel honored to support people in life's big transitions. In addition to mentoring students for the past 30 years, I have been a certified Wilderness First Responder, ski instructor, birth doula and wedding officiant.
I love living in a beautiful 4-season New England college town where I can ski, trail run, paddle board, see live music and support local farmers ... all in the same weekend! Making art, gardening, dancing and playing ukulele bring me levity and joy. And whenever I travel, whether it's 1 hour or 9,000 miles away from home, it's with a genuine desire to connect with a place and its people.
My husband Jason and I have worked and adventured together throughout the world and our own amazing country (ask me about our #vanlife year!) Through it all we have started a business and a family, both providing us constant opportunities to truly cultivate what we most believe in: living with a #gapyearstateofmind. What does that mean? For starters: being intentional, leading with curiosity and compassion, pushing beyond comfort zones, striving for excellence, and doing so with integrity, authenticity and fun.
I'd love to hear your story, and hope that you will be in touch.