This is a guest blog from Rachel Vickry, an alumni of GlobalLEAD

When I began thinking about studying abroad I knew it couldn’t be just any typical study abroad where you go to class, tour a few museums, drink yourself silly and then return to America without having had any true impact abroad. I needed to find a program that would compliment my personal values, desire for adventure and emphasis on personal growth. After months of pouring through program brochures and destinations I came across a service learning/leadership study abroad program known as Global LEAD. Global LEAD’s emphasis on leadership, service and personal growth immediately drew me in. I was raised in a family that valued the importance of being a servant to others and what better way to study abroad than to exercise that family value while exploring one of the most beautiful places in the world? There was no competition when it came to choosing between spending all day in a classroom or touching the lives of others through service during my summer abroad.

I’ve always been an active volunteer in my community so I went into my experience with the expectation that I would serve the local community like I had so many times before, have a great summer exploring and that would be that. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

 Volunteering abroad with Global LEAD changed my life in a way that I never could have imagined. There was one service day in particular that I’ll never forget…. our group had organized a field day for a local after-school program and we were pumped! What college kid doesn’t love reliving their childhood by spending the day playing dodge ball and duck-duck-goose? We set up games and face paint and waited for the children to arrive. We quickly realized the language barrier was going to pose a bit of a problem when it came to explaining the rules of the games, but that didn’t lessen our desire to give these kids a day of fun. We improvised and relied on charades to act out the rules and they quickly caught on.

One tiny girl named Vanessa clung to me the whole day; we painted each other’s faces, played with sidewalk chalk and she taught me all of her favorite games. Vanessa never wandered more than a few feet away from me and spent most of the day tugging on my shirt asking me to hold her. The language barrier prevented Vanessa and I from having a full conversation that day but she didn’t need words to express her appreciation; her smile said it all.

Volunteering abroad taught me that no matter the language, appreciation and respect for each other are universal principles. As we prepared to leave, Vanessa clung to me with tears streaming down her face and she whispered “Te amo” which means, “I love you.”  I was blown away that goofy college kids and a few bags of toys could spark such a strong response in a little girl. I’ll never forget that day.  A day that I thought was spent helping locals actually helped me; helped me to understand that such tiny acts of kindness and service can change someone’s life.

To anyone considering studying abroad I recommend you go with a program that emphasizes service- you’ll learn more about yourself than you ever dreamed and trust me, you won’t regret it. I wake up every morning with a new appreciation for life and relationships because of one tiny girl and I wish the same for every student that decides to volunteer abroad.

Rachel Vickry is a Senior at the University of Georgia, Consumer Economics major and Global LEAD 2011 Alumni.