National Alumni Network Newsletter

Spring, 2015 Issue - Internationalism | Stories of Summer Search alumni around the world!

The Summit is Coming!

By Niles X. Lichtenstein

I can hardly believe it's already May! Many of you know that May 1st was College Decision Dayfor our high school seniors. For weeks the seven Summer Search offices across the country were abuzz with the excitement, stress, relief, and sense of accomplishment felt by our students and staff as they move closer to this incredible milestone in their academic journey. 

Making a decision about college is huge! And Summer Search staff, students, and their families understandably take the time to reflect and celebrate.  

And for me, milestones like these are a chance to reflect how far I've come since my Summer Search interview 16 years ago -- and how far Summer Search has come, too! 

Well hopefully you've heard about another milestone for Summer Search -- our 25th Anniversary, all year in 2015. We'll be celebrating in so many ways and we want you to be a part of the festivities. Here are just a few: collaborate on our interactive timeline, buy your own copy of Linda Mornell's book Forever Changed, or make plans to attend our next Alumni Summit & Leadership Conference this October in New York City, our first on the East Coast.

And of course read this newsletter! In this issue, we are focused on stories of internationalism: travel, working and studying abroad, volunteerism and community service, and so much more. Many of us remember fondly Summer Search trips overseas. Now catch up with your fellow alumni who are still abroad, through the stories, letters, interviews, and photo albums from around the world.

Enjoy this issue of your newsletter, and I look forward to seeing you at a future event soon!



Niles Xi'an Lichtenstein is a Summer Search alumnus and is a director on the Summer Search San Francisco Board.


Letter Home From ScotlanD

By Angelo Ercia, Summer Search North Bay Alumnus

My name is Angelo Ercia and I am a Summer Search North Bay alumni from the class of 2002. I currently live in Edinburgh, Scotland pursuing a PhD in social policy, specializing in international health care systems. I first came to Edinburgh 15 years ago for a 6-weeks conservation and homestay program with American Field Service (AFS) for my second summer trip. The program allowed me to work with the community by helping build irrigation canals in the Scottish Highlands, assisting the renovation of Beverley Cathedral, and to build connections with local people and the families I lived with. I still remember the excitement I felt when I was traveling by myself for the very first time across the Atlantic Ocean.

After graduating from college, I pursued a career in public health. I was attracted to the profession due to its core values of addressing inequities in health and advocating social justice. After getting my Masters in public health, I worked for a community mental health organization in Oakland, CA for several years where I managed prevention and early intervention programs for Asians and Pacific Islanders that have recently immigrated to the US. Though I enjoyed my work overseeing prevention programs on HIV/AIDS, mental health, physical health and wellness, I had a desire to obtain a PhD in health care systems. The health care system is a major source of inequities and with the Affordable Care Act recently been implemented, I knew it was the best time for me to pursue my PhD. I wanted to study outside the U.S. since I knew it would give me a global perspective and would expose me to different ideas and values on public health. As a result, I packed my bags and left my comfort zone. Fortunately, I was well prepared to leave everything familiar and live in a different country since my experience from Summer Search exposed me to taking on challenging tasks and embracing the unknown.

The first couple of months living in Edinburgh were challenging. Not only did I have to get use to attending classes and interact with academics again, but also I had to begin a new life. I had to get a new bank account, mobile phone, figure out how to get health care, places where I can get groceries, and make new friends. Doing these things alone in a foreign country even if people spoke English was difficult because thing were done differently in the United Kingdom. Eventually, I learned how to navigate the banking and health care system. I also learned where the groceries were located and how to get to one part of the city from the next using the bus and tram system, but most importantly, I started to make friends.

Edinburgh is a very diverse city. Many people from all over Britain, Europe, and the rest of the world come to live, study, and work here. As I interacted with people from different places such as Athens, Harare, Kuala Lampur, and London, I realize that many people had misconceptions and questions about the US. Sitting in a class where I was the only American in the group was always a great experience because I heard many different ideas, perspectives and rationale about social policy, health care, and education that were very much different from what I would have heard if I was with other American students. Undertaking my PhD research on investigating the effects of the Affordable Care Act on Federally Qualified Health Clinics in relation to low-income adults’ ability to access care, outside the US, has allowed me to approach the project with a more global perspective. I am privileged to have the opportunity to become an expert on the Affordable Care Act, but also learn and hear about positive and negative personal accounts of the different types of health care systems that exist today.

Embracing my new home in Edinburgh also allowed me to find part-time work for a charity organization that allowed me to use my expertise in public health. I recently completed a research project on gay men living in Scotland and their risk of getting infected with Hepatitis C. Hepatitis C is becoming a global public health problem and many studies have been performed from different parts of the world to better understand the transmission of this debilitating infectious disease. The experience allowed me to not only learn about Hepatitis C, but I was also able to gain a better understanding of the lived experience of Scottish and other European men living in 2 major urban cities in the UK.

If you asked me fifteen years ago if I ever saw myself moving to another country alone and living there for several years, I would have said “NO WAY!” There are many factors that have taken me to where I am today, but I truly believe that my experience with the Summer Search program has had a great influence. I remember being afraid to accept the offer to be part of Summer Search because of the fear of being taken out of my comfort zone and being in situations that would push me. Today, I am much more willing to take on challenges and face uncertainties, especially when the path will help me achieve my life goals. I am not completely sure where I will be or what I will be doing 10 years from now, but I know life is an adventure and I am ready to take it on.


my story from the andes

By Carrie Gonzalez, Summer Search New York City Alumna

Standing in the middle of the Hopi Reservation, hiking and walking in beauty as a Summer Searcher changed my life and my perspective on the world in a way no other previous experience did. Fast forward a few years later, as a recent college graduate, I found myself in the Andes Mountains in Ecuador living among the Kichwa people as a Peace Corps Agriculture Volunteer.

Volunteering with Peace Corps, I spent more than three years outside my comfort zone of New York City, cultivating and pursuing my interest in cultural anthropology, education, and conservation issues. My daily activities ranged from gathering fresh quail eggs, to teaching English and conservation methods to protect Pachamama at the local elementary school to baking carrot muffins from our organic garden in the Inti Nan community foundation. Each child and adult who engaged in the work and soaked up the education became a role model and a teacher for other people in their families and surrounding communities. Every day, I felt gratitude working side by side community members and I learned much more from them than they learned from me. I developed my independence, ingenuity, self-reliance, leadership, team-building skills and the importance of relationship building. I became a global citizen. Living abroad tested me in so many different ways – physically, mentally and emotionally – and I returned a stronger person.

I attribute everything I gained and learned to my willingness to be open-minded. I never said “No”, always took a risk and tried everything once, from eating roasted guinea pig, to zip lining in the jungle. To anyone thinking of living or traveling abroad, you would be amazed at how these “risks” will be the highlights of your experience.

Peace Corps and Summer Search are two examples of ways to engage youth, families, local and government organizations in being active in studying, preserving, and acknowledging the cultural and unique diversity of our local communities and world. I believe education is the key to spreading the word about how we harm our environment and world and, at the same time, we can use education to protect it. We have the duty as human beings to leave a positive mark on this world and it starts with our youth, families, communities and governments. As a Museum Educator at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, I continue to enrich children and adults from NYC and abroad with the rich Native American history of North, Central and South America.


Global Glimpse: a Profile of a proud summer search partner

By Ben Polansky, Director of Operations, Global Glimpse

“My greatest success on my Global Glimpse trip was seeing how the world really is. It opened my eyes to a whole different perspective. I realized how important it is to never take things for granted and it made me want to help others in the future.” -Kizzie Cespedes, GG Dominican Republic 2014

Global Glimpse is a non-profit organization that works to inspire America’s next generation to become responsible and successful global citizens through after-school programming and transformative travel in the developing world.

Over the past four years Global Glimpse has become one of Summer Search’s largest providers of international travel and over 100 Summer Searchers will be traveling on Global Glimpse trips to Nicaragua, Dominican Republic and Ecuador this summer.

Global Glimpse believes that first-hand exposure to different countries, cultures and people is one of the most powerful educational experiences a person can have and is essential for developing a new generation of young Americans who think and act as responsible global citizens. They are one of the only organizations providing this type of experience to low-income students on a large scale. In 2015 Global Glimpse will provide over $2 million dollars in need-based scholarships to the 750 students enrolled in their program.

“We deeply value the partnership we have with Summer Search. They have a unique commitment to developing the whole young person – leadership, global competence, altruism and college readiness, which is directly aligned with our program model and outcomes. Summer Search students add to the diversity of our student groups and consistently exemplify courage, critical thinking and a desire to venture outside of their comfort zones. They become role models for their peers on our trips,” says Ben Polansky, Director of Operations at Global Glimpse.

Global Glimpse programs provide Summer Search students with a window into another world while constantly tying the experience back to their lives in the United States. International travel, when done right, pushes young people to confront a different reality at a young age and through this challenging and inspiring experience they gain an invaluable perspective on the importance of education, on their privilege as United States residents, and most importantly, on their ability and responsibility to affect thoughtful change in the world. When you remove someone from their community and everything that is familiar even for only three weeks you provide them with a new set of eyes and the ability to evaluate not only the greater world, but also the very communities that they call home.

Global Glimpse is proud to partner with Summer Search and looks forward to continuing to expand the number of Summer Search students on their trips each year.

Global Glimpse is currently expanding to partner with new high schools in New York, San Francisco Bay Area and Chicago. To learn more about Global Glimpse and get involved please visit:



An interview with Summer Search Seattle Alumna, Michelle Wong, by her mentor Rebecca Sullivan

1. Hi Michelle, tell us what you are doing in Vanuatu?

As a Peace Corps volunteer, my primary assignment was the Vanuatu Information Technology and English Literacy Program. I served 2 years on a very remote island called Ambae, located in Northern Vanuatu. In my village, I worked with local primary school teachers on developing better teaching skills and specifically improving phonemic awareness and phonics teaching capacity.

As a part of my secondary project, I also helped my school build a library which is now stocked with donated books for the teachers and students to use as external resources and just to have a quiet space to read for fun. Also I assisted the village in securing funding to build a bridge that connected families to aid posts, and students to the school, across two large rivers. Vanuatu is such a beautiful place that I have decided to extend for another year. For my 3rd year of service, I will be working in the Capitol with a local non-profit organization called Youth Challenge Vanuatu. We are an employment service agency that offers leadership and job seeking trainings work and career counseling, and internship placements to address the problem of youth unemployment in Port Vila.

2. What inspired you to travel abroad? Has Summer Search influenced your choice to go abroad?

The reason I decided to become a Peace Corps volunteer was because of Summer Search. As a Summer Searcher back in 2007, Global Leadership Adventures: South Africa was the first time I had ever travelled abroad, on my own, doing community development work. Ever since that first taste of seeing another place that was so different from home, experiencing and exchanging cultures, being terribly frightened because you didn’t know the language, and the self-discovery of who you were and who you could potentially become, I was hooked. The travel bug had bit me.

I come from a very traditional Asian heritage where traveling was not something that was promoted in our home. After emigrating from China, my parents were content with being in America because that is where opportunities lay. As most know, traveling is another expense in itself that my family nor I could afford. That is why I decided to volunteer abroad and it has been the greatest decision I’ve taken by far.

3. What advice would you have for other alums who might be considering service abroad?

My advice is to take a leap of faith, and do it. Travel. Give back, because Summer Search has given so much to us, it is our destiny to return the favor to Mother Universe.

Someone once told me: "When we don’t offer ourselves to the world, our senses dull. Our world becomes small and we lose our sense of wonder. Our eyes don’t lift to the horizon; we don’t hear the sounds around us. The edge is no longer a part of our experience and we pass our days in a routine that is both comfortable yet limiting. We wake up one day and find that we have lost our dreams in order to protect or days.”

So travel, no matter how humble, will etch new elements into your character. You will know the cutting moments of life, where fear meets adventure and loneliness meets exhilaration. You will know what it means to push forward when you want to turn back. And when you have tragedies or great changes in your life, you will understand that there are a million ways to live, and that you life will go on to something new and different and every bit as worth as the life you are leaving behind."


Service in Action: A CAREER IN International SOCIAL Work

By Andrae Laws, Summer Search Boston Program Associate

Ana Maria Medina Rodriguez is an alumna from Boston and is currently pursuing a Master of Social Work, with a global practice concentration, from Boston College. She shared her appreciation for international travel, and her desire to establish a career abroad. Ana Maria’s first experience traveling overseas began at the age of eight, when she and her family immigrated to the United States from The Dominican Republic. She recounted her initial reaction after moving to the US, “I was so surprised! I didn’t understand English, and it was tough communicating.” Ana Maria then laughed as she explained her realization at a young age that acquiring a better life for herself would require hard work.

Although adapting to life in the US was initially challenging for Ana Maria, she reflected on her experience quite differently than others. “I was so intrigued by the differences between cultures. I have a love for languages, people, behaviors and cultures.” Through Ana Maria’s bicultural perspective and identity, she deepened her ability to empathize with people with diverse experiences and worldviews. Ana Maria’s interest for understanding cultures and helping people allowed her to build a bridge to connect her innate passion and curiosity for cultural diversity with helping people in need—international social work.

As an international social work student, Ana Maria has traveled to China, Italy, and Spain—just to name a few countries! When presented with the option of being a social worker based in the US versus overseas, Ana Maria explained that she sees great need here in the US. However, she has seen a greater need in underdeveloped countries where additional factors put the most vulnerable people, oftentimes children and the elderly, at risk. While working overseas, she witnessed school-aged children having to decide between receiving one free meal provided by their school, or signing up for an extracurricular activity, which meant missing their free meal. Ana Maria explained that most children in the US are not presented with such difficult decisions, mostly because of mandated policies to protect children. In addition to wanting to advocate for people with limited access to resources, Ana Maria enjoys collaborating with international consults and governments in finding the best practices in creating policies.

“I do have something. It’s not much, but it’s something.” Ana Maria sees her passion for helping others as a major asset for implementing change. “It’s important to start volunteering and being exposed to international backgrounds early.” Being exposed to cultural diversity early in life afforded Ana Maria the privilege of seeing differences and similarities in the world, and developing tools for making a change. In May 2015, Ana Maria will graduate with a MSW, and she hopes to embark on her dream of working internationally as a social worker, and helping people in need.


Photo Slideshow from Kleve, Germany

By Napol Wills, Summer Search Philadelphia Alumna

Napol Wills, Middlebury College Class of 2014 and Summer Search alumna from Philadelphia, is currently a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Kleve, Germany. When not teaching, she can be found riding her bike around town, hanging out with friends and roommates, and eating delicious Döner.

Here are some snapshots of her life abroad.


When we first met Napol, she had just graduated from college! Follow her journey now that she's on a Fulbright in Kleve, Germany!
When we first met Napol, she had just graduated from college! Follow her journey now that she's on a Fulbright in Kleve, Germany!



Read stories from previous issues of the National Alumni Network Newsletter.
→ Spring, 2015

→ Winter, 2015

→ Spring, 2014


Supporting Young People to Thrive.