Two of our Aventura Ambassadors, Elena Sonnino and Kara Williams were among the top 100 travel bloggers invited to the White House Travel Blogger Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship, hosted by the National Security Council.
Elena spent twelve years teaching children to chase their dreams before finally taking her own advice. She writes about finding everyday wellness in far-flung places and her own backyard at LiveDoGrow.com. Follow her adventures on Instagram.
Travel and all the accoutrements that go along with a wanderlust lifestyle are a part of my DNA. I first traveled from Italy to the United States when I was just over two years old – moving with my family, to a new life. Whether we were going back to Italy for summer visits or to the Caribbean to snorkel and scuba dive, my parents always prioritized a life of travel, exploration and respect for other cultures. It was not a surprise when I wanted to travel independently, to improve my French in high school or later to the Soviet Union with the People to People Ambassador program in 1991.
I recognize that I was incredibly lucky – to have the means and time to travel. Equipped with four languages (Italian, English, French and Russian), I never really questioned whether or not I would study abroad in college, wondering instead which direction to follow. Because for me, study abroad was a matter of “where” not “if.”
There are so many reasons to study abroad. From personal growth to the acquisition of global skills that make you professionally marketable, it is almost impossible to predict the direct and indirect benefits that come from living, studying, working and connecting in a new community abroad.
So when the White House and State Department announced a new U.S. Study Abroad Office under the Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs during the recent White House Travel Blogger Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship, it was not difficult to embrace the administration’s goal to increase the number of students who study abroad.
The new office will provide a much needed resource to promote experiences for youth to study, work and serve abroad. The administration wants not just to increase the numbers of students who study abroad, but also to promote destination diversity – encouraging students to go beyond their comfort zones to countries that may not have traditionally been study abroad “hot spots.” To kick things off in the near year, the new office of Study Abroad will co-host a Virtual Study Abroad Fair on February 25, for students and their families.
Throughout the summit, attendees heard from a whos-who of United States government officials – from Ben Rhodes, the assistant to President Obama and deputy national security advisor for strategic communications and speechwriting, to President Obama’s chief-of-staff Denis McDonough and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. Beyond sharing their commitment to increasing the number of youth who study abroad from the current 10%, many members of the administration shared another commonality: they all studied abroad during college.
The notion of broadening horizons and pushing past our comfort zone through global citizenship goes hand in hand with the Aventura Life – living each day “full of passion for family, friends, community and environment.” As Ben Rhodes said, “To truly thrive, we cannot just rely on tradition. We need to push outside our comfort zone.”
While the summit was focused on experiences for college-aged students, Paula Froelich – Editor in Chief of Yahoo Travel, reminded us that study abroad is not just for students. Anyone, of any age – can study, live, work and serve abroad. In fact, as travel writer Robert Reid of National Geographic Traveler, told the group of 100 bloggers and influencers, “I study abroad. Every time I leave the country.”
Admittedly, I have a running list of global destinations that I hope to immerse myself in one day – with Myanmar, Morocco, Egypt, Israel, the Cook Islands, Thailand and Peru topping the list. Thanks to following Kara Williams as she sailed throughout Europe with Semester at Sea, I even find myself daydreaming about working on this floating classroom – or at the very least, hoping that my daughter one day considers this unique experience as a study abroad option for herself.
As a mom and a wanderlusting woman, travel and exploration through immersive experiences are passions that I hope to foster in my daughter. Whether I am watching life go by at a park in Istanbul, getting to know a local artist in the small surfing town of Sayulita, Mexico or hiking through the Atlas mountains in Morocco – travel reminds us to live in the moment, and study abroad fosters connections and memories that will last a lifetime.