Global Visionaries (GV) serves as an equalizer by bringing together two cultures through the face of youth. A rare moment in GV history is captured here, where two previous participants who joined GV in the same year – one on the Seattle program, the other in Guatemala – now reflect on what valuable experiences they have gained individually and how they hope GV has shaped their futures. Today, Billy and Emma have graduated from GV and are now staff members who share valuable insights and advice on what impacts GV relationships and experiences shaped for them in becoming the young adults they are today:
- How did you hear about Global Visionaries and why did you join?
Billy: It’s an interesting story, but I didn’t want to. My best friend actually signed me up after a presentation at my school. I was really skeptical about it all, and I did not want to get dirty working on construction and reforestation teams. In Guatemala, volunteering is not part of our culture. We (Guatemalans) need to work, so it didn’t make sense to me at the time. My best friend at the time, signed me up and he convinced me and challenged me to do something different. So I gave it a shot.
Emma: I remember it so clearly, I remember Mario Flores (GV’s Program Director) speaking in my Spanish class about the disparity of his country and how GV was an opportunity to make a difference, and what better way to do that than during summer break? I was very involved in athletics but something about the opportunity to make a difference inspired me to make that leap and take on another commitment. I had gone on a trip to Rome with my middle school and since then have always looked for ways to explore cultures outside of my own. I didn’t realize just how much personal impact GV would have, aside from providing me the opportunity to travel again.
- What was it like first interacting with young people your age, from another country and culture?
Billy: I remember exactly. I was on the bus with the “gringos,” on the way to construction… and I remember they (the trip leaders) started facilitating questions like, “Where are you from, what’s your name, what do you do for fun…etc….” It was very awkward because I didn’t speak any English, and my partner didn’t speak any Spanish. But it was fun and by the end of the day I felt more comfortable interacting with “los gringos” and more bonded with my Guatemalan friends. I also stopped caring about being dirty.
Emma: I was so nervous! It was awkward, uncomfortable, and very strange to say the least. Meeting students your age from another school at home was already outside of my comfort zone, but at least we had a common background – Seattle. This was completely different. I remember being paired with a Guatemalan participant, and we were asked to interview one another about, “What is your favorite food, what do you like to do in your free time…etc.” My answers were short-ended, there was a lot of hand gestures, and a lot, a lot of silence but there was a lot of nervous smiling, too.
- How did GV inspire you to take action in your community?
Billy: Well, in my first experience it was great to get to know “los gringos.” But most importantly, I later realized that when we were together during a GV activity, we broke down all the stereotypes (nerds, cool kids, etc..) and GV helped create that space. I continued working with GV because it felt like a community and family outside of school and my own family. It inspired me, because it gave me an opportunity and a space, to give back to my peers (future Guatemalan participants). There’s so much segregation in my country with social classes, and no uniformity so it’s important to talk about the structures and divides in Guatemala. GV creates a space where youth can be themselves. GV also helps to breakdown those social boundaries to create more unity.
Emma: Before my experience in Guatemala, a group of alumni (the GV Youth Board) had facilitated a workshop on systematic oppression. I was really impressed that kids my age were conducting these conversations and facilitating activities that would encourage us to speak on real-life issues in our community. Issues that affect us all: racism, sexism, classism, imperialism, etc. As a daughter of two moms, I have experienced discrimination first and second-hand and GV gave me the language to tell my story, and the space to hear other peoples’ experience. I saw the root of activism was not being afraid to have “difficult” conversations about the issues people face every day, including myself.
- What tools did GV equip you with to better follow your passions?
Billy: It provided me space, and opportunity to grow professionally and personally. GV supported me in being more confident in myself, and speaking my words, thoughts and opinions. Traveling to the United States I had a newfound understanding of how to work with others, after seeing their culture. This experience gave me insight on how to create a stronger relationship between the two cultures.
Emma: GV reminded me to use my voice, to step outside my comfort zone, and to work hard. Since my first year with GV I am more confident in my ability to communicate myself to others. I appreciate a hard work-ethic, and strive to demonstrate it to others daily. Leading by example, more than anything else, is the greatest tool GV gave to me as a leader.
- What changes have you seen in one another, after going through the program, and now as staff?
Billy: When I first met Emma, she was very introverted and quiet so I didn’t get to know her very well. The second time she came to Guatemala, she became more lively and started to speak her mind and share her thoughts and opinions. When she left Guatemala after her work as a GAP year student, I noticed she was following her passions in the social movement and was very active in addressing many issues. Today, I see a strong woman who speaks her mind and works for her community. As staff, we understand each other better, because we understand our cultural backgrounds.
Emma: I remember Billy as a very outgoing character. His excitement for the program, and willingness to get to know us “gringos” was impressive. I aspired to be like that. He kept a good sense of humor and always made people laugh. As staff, I am constantly reminded of his good humor which he has managed to maintain in his development as a young adult and staff member here at GV. I’m happy to be working with him and learning from him.
- If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself when you first started the program?
Billy: I would have told myself, “Billy, why didn’t you jump in!? Ask questions?” I was very curious about a lot of things with the “gringos”, and it would have been important for me to get to know them more at that time. I wish I gave myself the time to get to know my friends (Guatemalans) better, so I could understand what it means to make connections and relationships with people. I would encourage myself to ask more, and let people get to know me.
Emma: I would have reminded myself that “it takes friction to make a surface smooth”. The first time speaking with and learning from another person is a process! Everything takes practice, and every effort is the best you can give at that time. When things seem awkward or uncomfortable, own it! Have fun, and enjoy the moment!
- What legacy do you want to leave with Global Visionaries as a member of staff?
Billy: I want to leave a program for Guatemala, that is designed to be led by youth where participants can find a space to be themselves and follow their passions. I want to provide them with tools to take action in their community.
Emma: I hope to foster a sense of adventure, enthusiasm, and willingness to participate to the best of their ability with all activities no matter how silly they may seem. I also hope to serve as a support system to participants who come back from their immersion, and provide more opportunities for them to reflect and expand their thoughts with others outside of GV. There’s a whole world out there, of other organizations and groups that our students could get involved in. I hope to give our participants opportunities.