Julia DeWalt

JE 2000 and 2002

American University Graduate

 

Julia Dewalt“Like many of the students who have participated in Journey East over the years, it provided me with many a first. It was my first overseas flight, my first group travel experience,  my first exposure to a new culture and a new kind of collaborative learning experience. I had no idea what to expect but knew I was in the safe and capable hand of two of my most trusted teachers and that we were doing something new, and I was excited to be a part of that. I had never imagined going to China but I knew that this was a rare opportunity that I had to take advantage of. The value of experiencing different cultures was instilled in me from a young age and I knew I had to take every chance I could to experience what existed outside of rural VT.

As it turned out, Journey East 1 became the springboard for my interest in travel and over the rest of my time at Leland and Gray I was lucky enough to have other cultural exchange opportunities, including the second Journey East class in 2002. It ultimately led to my decision to attend The American University to study International Development and continue to travel and learn from people all over the world. It is easy to point to my experiences in China as a root cause for a love of travel; however, I think JE provided me with an additional strength, one a little more discreet.

As I look at what I am doing now, it is not what I would have guessed when I was a 15 year old freshman returning from my first trip halfway around the world. I am not in the foreign service, I am not living and working abroad, I am not in Washington, DC anymore. But what I do now is a very real reflection of some of the lessons I learned through my experiences with JE. The time we spent with students as a part of this Sino-American exchange taught me the importance of collaboration and the possibility of finding a connection with someone with vastly different experiences. Realizing that communicating with someone who does not speak your language is possible made me realize how strong the human connection is, and I use that in my work every day. JE reinforced the importance of thinking creatively and not letting assumptions create barriers to understanding. As we worked collaboratively to create a shared experience that transcended language, we strengthen our ability to relate to anyone, anywhere. I don’t think I truly appreciated that at the time but looking back on both my JE experiences, I can clearly see that my interest in finding a surprising shared connection with others was piqued. We cannot be limited by our comfort zones and must challenge the assumptions that we make as individuals and as a society. Giving high school students this opportunity, especially in a place like rural VT is invaluable. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity and proud to have  been a part of something that has given so many students these big first experiences. I don’t think about it every day, but I know that my experiences through Journey East are at the core of who I am as a counselor, colleague, student and global citizen.”