Does Changing the World 101 Work?

I’ll be the first to admit that the aim of Changing the World 101 is ambitious  My goal is to inspire and equip college students across the US and Canada to volunteer with great programs in the developing world. My hope is that with more people seeing and impacting our world, more people will begin serving the less fortunate and becoming good leaders.

I track many of the students I work with and have been pleased to discover that as many as 32% of the Changing the World 101 participants volunteer internationally within one year of the seminar and over 90% volunteer locally within one year.

But then, there is no need to take my word for it. I recently received a great story from UConn student Christopher Gelino who volunteered in Guatemala after participating  in the Changing the World 101 seminar. Chris recently gave me permission to share his experience here. Chris’s story is below:

As I reached the podium of the auditorium to give my speech, I stared nervously out into the crowd. Dozens of students, staff, and parents stared back into my eyes, seemingly waiting to be amazed by my stories of daring travel and dedicated relief work. How could I possibly make them understand what I had been though? How could they know that I searched in vain for so long and had essentially given up hope of ever finding a path to the life that I wanted to live?

I took a brief second to reflect on my path to that moment. I remembered myself one year earlier as a concerned yet undedicated audience member arriving at a program put forward by my university featuring a young idealist name Jason Connell. As I listened to Jason’s speech, I began to picture myself completing all of the amazing adventures that he had talked about. I could not determine whether he was being honest with us or if we were simply fools being sold snake oil by a traveling salesman. There was no way that I could actually go anywhere in the world that I wanted to help people. That is only for the privileged and the slightly insane to ever consider.

Later that year, I began to explore my options for the summer. I knew for sure that I wanted to leave my home state of Connecticut  but money has always been tight in my family and traveling around the world just did not seem to be within my budget. Yet something kept calling me to a life overseas. I knew that there was something out there more for me than college keg parties and late nights of pre-exam studying. I could understand life at a deeper level. I could become a truly active citizen of the globe. I became frustrated at what appeared to be a hopeless situation. I wanted to travel and help people, but I could not figure out how to do it.

During my winter break, I was running through emails and discovered an old advertisement for Jason’s speech. I remembered what he said about obstacles and leadership and decided to send him a message. Only a few days later, I received a personalized response detailing a plan of how I could make a trip possible for that upcoming summer. My only requirement was that I needed to believe that it was possible and work hard to everything that I wanted.

This was the spark I needed. I immediately began sending emails out to everyone that I knew. I emailed every office on my campus to ask if they had heard of any programs operating overseas that could host interns. I searched deep into Google to see what organizations were popular with college kids. I began to speak with my father about funding options and what could be done to help. I began a process that would carry me to the ends of the earth.

One of the secretaries in the Human Rights Institute on campus, who I had never spoken with in a one-on-one basis, responded to me with a recommendation that I check out a program that had started in Guatemala called the Social Entrepreneur Corps. I began setting up regular meetings in the institute and with the staff in charge of the program to see what could be done about my consideration. I applied for dozens of scholarships and appealed to the Human Rights Program, the Business School, and several private donors to consider rewarding me with extra funds to travel. Eventually, I had raised enough money to pay for my trip.

My experience in Guatemala changed my life forever. I spent two months working with some of the most wonderful people that this planet has to offer. I worked alongside various other interns and community members to determine the best way to market water filters to poor individuals who live in rural areas. The process taught me more about human interaction, love, hope, and respect than any class or lesson ever could. I feel like I now understand what it means to be a human being on this planet. I have a second family in Guatemala now and I am also nearly fluent in Spanish. I do not question if I will travel the world again to do service, I am now just trying to find a new place to travel to.

It is human to have doubts. It is normal for a person to feel as though they are helpless and that they have nothing to offer the world. There is nothing wrong with being afraid to be unique.

What I learned from Jason Connell and Changing the World 101 is that human beings cannot be afraid to take a leap of faith every once in a while. They must be willing to work hard and fight for what they want. People must live their lives each day with passion and vigor, for we are only guaranteed so many. Not everyone is going to drop everything and travel to Guatemala for a summer. I was extremely lucky to have such and opportunity and I understand that others may not be so lucky. But do not doubt for one second that there is no such thing as “impossible”. If you have a dream, fight for it. Let your imagination run wild and reach for the stars, for they are always in reach.

As I regained my composure in the auditorium that day, I took a deep breath and decided to show them how I changed the world and how, surprisingly, it changed me. My name is Chris, and I am a global citizen.


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