Our Story

Small Town to Big World

My friend and mentor, Troy Peden, graciously wrote this piece for Wanderlust Squared to describe our shared belief and experiences in the transformative power of travel. I have so much to thank Troy for, but at the top of the list is helping make becoming an expat in the Philippines a reality! Here’s what Troy has eloquently written:

I have been working in the world of meaningful travel for nearly 30 years, in fact my entire adult life has been spent talking about cultural immersion, creating the global community, promoting diversity and other lofty ideals. This professional community sometimes feels like a closed club of elite intellectuals and academia who have a vision of the perfect world which can be achieved only through travel. The thought leaders aren’t always connected with the travelers however and occasionally the travelers aren’t as interested in immersion as they are in binge drinking or diving with sharks. In most cases however the travelers have a shared vision of a better world through meaningful travel. These travelers often come from a background which already understands the value of travel and international education and supports it.

As an international educator, we often work with young women who grew up interested in world cultures and studying foreign languages, with supportive families who flamed their interest in world travel and study abroad. When I look back at my own life story it was quite different. I was an unlikely traveler. Being born in South Dakota and growing up in a small farm town in rural Illinois, world travel was not on my radar. University barely made my list of possibilities. I did go on to university and to see the world; I studied, volunteered and worked abroad, and became addicted to the pursuit. I spent time in a doctoral program, have a few college degrees, and hobnob with those academic elites who talk about outcomes and acculturation. My first life as a naive small town kid with a very limited horizon is still with me. I still value hard work, I understand people who make their living from the land and believe in tradition and community. Most importantly I understand the transformative impact of meaningful travel. I also know that the impact is even more dramatic when it happens to the small town kid with few resources and even less global contacts.

When I first met Kayla, I was drawn to her small town sensibilities, her work ethic, and her life experience. She was a lot like me. She had not traveled abroad, except that one trip to the resort in Mexico. She was managing a country-western band, cleaning homes through her own maid service business and was still getting perfect grades at Colorado State University. She was often politically incorrect, and had a dry sense of humor, but man did she work hard…at everything. It reminded me of my dad’s, and I suspect every working class dad’s advice, “If you are going to do something, do it right and give it 100%!”

My wife, Kayla, and I enjoying a show by the Zachariah Dean Band.

Since beginning her career at GoAbroad.com Kayla has become a traveler. It has been a pleasure to watch her personal growth and her personality evolve as she has transformed into a global citizen. Her first extended trip to the Philippines was a make or break initiation. She could have been shocked into retreating back to her world in Colorado or she could have embraced this completely new and foreign culture. She did the latter. Maybe the modest means of her childhood better prepared her for developing world travel; still I have seen travelers freak out at the dramatic differences between the worlds. She fell in love with the tight community, the warmth of the people and the endless hospitality and has embraced it completely. Since that first trip she did a stint in Ireland. Like me she fell in love with the Irish, who incidentally have so much in common with the Filipino — they are easy to love. Her travels continue and there is no doubt in my mind that she will travel for the rest of her life.

Meaningful travel is one of the ways the world is becoming a better place. Travel connects people across cultures without regard for religion, politics or skin color; meaningful travel connects humans, dissolves barriers, and disintegrates hatreds and unfounded fears. GoAbroad and other international education and global service organizations are catalysts in changing lives and changing the world. I am always grateful to be part of this travel community and be a small part of this change. It is particularly gratifying when you get to see that transformation in someone you know, and it is even more special when that someone is a redneck like yourself. Humanities majors need to travel abroad, but so do kids from Wellington, Colorado or Winnebago, Illinois.

So congrats Kayla on your journey, and welcome to the world!

Thank you again Troy. Thank you for showing me that anything is possible. Thank you for showing me what travel is all about. Thank you for supporting both Tyler and I in this journey!

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