GIVE, Growth International Volunteer Excursions, is a program which has visited Penn State and other college campuses in the past couple of weeks recruiting students to take a chance and impact the world. With a focus on education and sustainability, GIVE aims to “give” back while traveling and going on excursions at the same time. The trips “range from two to four weeks and provide you with a perfect combination of meaningful project work, cultural immersion and off-the-beaten-path adventure,” according to the GIVE website.
VALLEY sat down with GIVE Global Engagement Team Representative, Jessica Hillman, to learn why students should take advantage of this transformative opportunity.
VALLEY: Why is GIVE important to your life, and how do you think it might influence a person’s future in terms of the career they choose? In what ways will this experience affect the way you show up in the world for others?
Jessica Hillman: I knew I was missing something in college. I had that drive, that passion, but I did not know where exactly to apply that energy – not until GIVE came into my life. I am so grateful to this day that I took that leap of faith and went on my first GIVE trip. Since then, I have grown tremendously, experienced places I could have never imagined I would and have surrounded myself with some of the most inspirational human beings that push me to be the best I can be and remind me to keep stepping outside of my comfort zone.
No matter what future career you might be interested in, GIVE will not only open your eyes to the world and a vast amount of opportunities, it will be the catalyst to the rest of your life. GIVE empowers volunteers to become Global Citizens—to think global and act local. This trip will not be just two or four weeks, it will be the building blocks on which you continue to create change on your campus, in your community and in the world. The knowledge and growth that you gain through a GIVE trip is truly priceless. The experience you gain, whether it’s learning how to build a school, getting your hands dirty on the permaculture lot or teaching a class of young bright minds will not only have a lasting impact on you, but the skills you learn will be applicable to future careers.
V: What is the most important thing you’ve learned through this organization?
JH: The most influential thing that GIVE has taught me would be to constantly push myself outside of my comfort zone. I would have never experienced Thailand and Laos the way that I did if it were not for GIVE. Because of Give I learned that I am capable of being a teacher, I discovered how easy it is to fall in love with a beautiful community of the small remote village of Sop Chem, have the courage to jump off a 50 meter high platform attached to a bungee cord and to be in complete awe while bathing an elephant in a river. I continue to push myself outside of my comfort zone every day and live life to the fullest thanks to GIVE.
V: What is the coolest individual experience with GIVE you’d like to share?
JH: All of us volunteers, the locals and the guides, were knee deep in mud helping a local rice field farmer build up the rice paddle walls. All of a sudden, a huge rainstorm rolled in and began to pour down on us. We all looked at each other and before you knew it, we broke out into a massive mud fight. The local village kids quickly jumped in on the fun and were all screaming with excitement. Everyone was covered from head to toe with mud grinning from ear to ear having the time of our lives. I recall stopping for a moment and taking in my surroundings. I was standing in a rice field, completely drenched and covered in mud alongside the most inspiring, adventurous and kind human beings in the middle of Thailand. It was such a surreal moment for me and I will never forget it.
V: When did you go on your first excursion, how old were you, and where did you go?
JH: I went on my first excursion in the summer of 2017 after I graduated from college. I was 21 years old at the time. I went on the South East Asia package trip and got to experience both Thailand and Laos!
V: Where is the most amazing place within a trip that you’ve been, and why? Have you traveled to each destination?
JH: I have traveled to Thailand and Laos with GIVE, but I am already planning my next trip. I am having a hard time choosing between Nicaragua or Tanzania!
The most amazing place that I have had the opportunity to travel to with GIVE would be Sop Chem which is a small remote village home to about 50 families in Laos. Before you even reach shore, the community is on the beach waving and welcoming you with open arms to their home. The village sits on a river, has one main dirt road and is surrounded by massive, towering limestone mountains that will take your breath away. What really leaves a lasting impact on you though are the people.
V: Did you go alone to your first excursion? Is it scary going alone?
JH: I originally signed up for the GIVE South East Asia package with my friend, but later on she was offered an incredible internship with GIVE in Tanzania for the summer and was unable to go on the trip to South East Asia. I saw that as a blessing in disguise because not only was my friend able to experience such an amazing opportunity, but I was able to push myself outside of my comfort zone by traveling alone to a foreign country. What is so magical is that I left my home country alone and came back with some of my best friends. Starting my travels alone made the connections and relationships I created with people even that more special.
It is not scary at all! GIVE provides you with all the necessary information and resources and will fully prepare you for your adventure. As soon as your plane lands, your guide will be there with a welcome sign and a big smile!
V: How would a person justify this to their parents and loved ones, especially if parents were funding the experience?
JH: It will truly change your life for the better and open your eyes to cultures, places and people from across the world. With GIVE, you will experience adventure, be immersed within cultures and communities, and become knowledgeable on global topics. Most importantly, you will work alongside locals on sustainable projects that will positively impact these developing villages. Almost everything is included in the program fee such as food, in-country transportation, accommodation, adventure activities, and project funds.
V: If you could go back and tell yourself something as you started your first excursion what would you say?
JH: I would tell myself to be open-minded, patient and to pack light! Oh, and do not be afraid to get dirty!