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Making the world a classroom


Carpe Mundi connects Portland area students with international opportunities through scholarship

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Team Bala, the second Carpe Mundi cohort, gathers in the basement of the nonprofit organization's headquarters their second day of orientation. Bala represents the five strengths of Buddhism.

Ten college students form a circle in the cozy basement of Carpe Mundi, dreaming of their upcoming adventures.

Their class name — Bala — represents the five strengths of Buddhism: faith, effort, mindfulness, concentration and wisdom. It also stands for the letter B, or Carpe Mundi’s second group of students, which doubled in size from last year.

At Carpe Mundi (“seize the world”), phrases such as “naturally nomadic” and “global changemaker” signify its mission.

The nonprofit organization offers Portland area students, who otherwise may not have had the means to travel and study abroad, the opportunity to do so.

The 10 students, hailing from Portland and East Multnomah County, just began their journey with an orientation and will embark on a yearlong program. This winter, they will spend three months in one of five locations — Central America, South America, India, East Africa or Southeast Asia.

The trips are organized by Carpe Diem Education, Carpe Mundi’s parent organization that offers three-month and yearlong programs focused on community, cultural immersion, service learning and adventure.

Students describe what drew them to Carpe Mundi. A stretch of the comfort zone. An opportunity they never imagined. A chance to experience somewhere totally new.

“I needed something different,” said Arturo Corona, a 2013 graduate of Centennial Park School (formerly Centennial Learning Center). “I wanted to get out of the city, let go of things I’m attached to, define myself more and become who I want to be.”

Carpe Mundi believes in making the world a classroom for these students to learn awareness, empathy and engagement.

Along with the semester overseas, the program includes yearlong support from Carpe Mundi and a summer internship.

The Bala team is working toward co-admission to Portland State University, where they will receive study abroad credits for their experience abroad.

They also will raise about $600 to contribute toward their spending money, passports, visas and travel gear.

“The world of gap years and study abroad is changing,” said Hansell Bourdon, executive director of Carpe Mundi. “Typically, people think of these experiences as something only available to wealthy students and their parents. We’re trying to shift that and make these opportunities available to a larger number of students.

“You can only do as big as you dream,” Bourdon said. “If you’re not aware of it, you can’t dream of it. Through those opportunities, students realize, ‘Oh! I can do this. I can leave and do something totally different.’ ”

Bourdon is joined by an AmeriCorps VISTA member and a Concordia University graduate student, both of whom came on board in September.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Crystal Galarza, a Carpe Mundi intern through Concordia's IPSL Study Abroad and Service-learning program, graduated in 2009 from Gresham High School. She said she identifies with the college students with whom Carpe Mundi works.

“Carpe Mundi is able to reach out to this demographic that often hasn’t had an opportunity to get these (study abroad and gap year) experiences,” said Crystal Galarza, a Carpe Mundi intern through Concordia’s IPSL Study Abroad and Service-learning.

Galarza, who graduated in 2009 from Gresham High School, said she identifies with these students, and was drawn to her internship for this reason.

Kristin Eberman, the VISTA member who holds a master’s degree in international education, said she wanted to get into the study-abroad field but with a social justice focus.

Carpe Mundi was the perfect fit.

The students — nine from Portland Community College and one from Mt. Hood Community College — are all part of FutureConnect, an initiative that makes college more accessible to low-income, first-generation college students and provides ongoing support throughout their education.

For Victoria Rodriguez, a PCC FutureConnect student and member of last year’s inaugural cohort Aleph, these programs have had a tremendous effect.

Learning in East Africa

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - 'I took this big step to be in another country and try things I never thought I'd do,' said Victoria Rodriguez, a 2011 Reynolds High graduate, current PCC student and Carpe Mundi alum. 'And I want to continue that.'

As her time at Reynolds High School evolved, Rodriguez’s shyness and insecurity melted. After a difficult, emotional stretch, Rodriguez was amazed to contemplate college, let alone graduate from high school in 2011.

Through PCC’s FutureConnect program, she found the extra boost of support she needed. “I realized I could go somewhere — I didn’t need to stay in one place forever,” said Rodriguez, a Wood Village resident.

She was in shock when she was accepted into Carpe Mundi’s inaugural team in 2012.

Preparing to live abroad three months was initially daunting, as Rodriguez had many responsibilities within her family. She had limited travel experience, and had only been outside the country once as a young child.

In February 2013, Rodriguez ventured to Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda in East Africa, separated from her four Carpe Mundi classmates, and seeking volunteer work.

She joined other students through the broader Carpe Diem Education program, based out of the same North Portland office as Carpe Mundi.

Rodriguez said one of her greatest lessons was experiencing helplessness.

“You get to see outside the bubble we live in,” Rodriguez said. “It makes you more humble. Even if you don’t come from the best background — if you’ve grown up on streets and had the worst experiences ever — you see someone else’s life, and it makes you realize, ‘Maybe I do have a hard life, but I have a way out of it.’ It makes you grateful for where you do come from because it makes you the person you are today.”

Rodriguez remembers winding along the “long, crazy” bus path to the district of Mufindi in Tanzania, where she and students from the broader Carpe Diem Education group volunteered in an orphanage for children living with HIV and AIDs.

The orphanage was set up as a village of circular houses, occupied by orphans from families who couldn’t afford their care.

In the last house lived an HIV-positive mother, Betty, and her young son, Johari. Barely 30, Betty had lost the use of her limbs and could barely speak or care for 4-year-old Johari.

One of Rodriguez’s most profound experiences came the day she read to the two. Johari sat between his mother and Rodriguez.

Though neither of them could understand English, they seemed comforted by Rodriguez. Johari leaned his head on Rodriguez’s shoulder and wrapped her arm around him.

“It was such a heart-squishy moment,” Rodriguez said. “We’re used to having a lot of solutions, and instantaneous solutions at that. When you’re put into a situation where there’s not a solution for years or ever, you feel super helpless. Sometimes you can’t do anything about something. Sometimes you have to accept there are certain things that are the way they are. It’s not because you or they made it so, it just happens.”

Rodriguez said she would advise incoming Carpe Mundi students — four of whom are also Reynolds grads — to be more prepared for what they’re going to leave behind when they depart from their countries than what they’re coming back to.

“I feel better knowing I can take this experience at the orphanage and use it to better myself and be an influence for others,” Rodriguez said in a recent video clip. “I can’t save the entire world, but I still have the power to make an impact, no matter how small it is, on others.”

Today, Rodriguez is studying full time at Portland Community College and interning at the Bureau of Environmental Services. She feels filled with possibility.

“I took this big step to be in another country and try things I never thought I’d do,” Rodriguez said. “And I want to continue that.”

Gap years

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - 'I feel like Im not going to be scared of the world,' said Arturo Corona, one of the Bala classmates and a 2013 Centennial Park School graduate. 'I worry about my future, but these three months away from everything will be mind changing and help me grow.'

The concept of “gap years” originated in the United Kingdom during the 1960s.

While gap years tie into the idea of study abroad programs, historically they have included a hiatus from academic studies that can last from several weeks up to several years.

Students may travel, volunteer, intern, work or pursue outdoor adventures before resuming their studies.

Bourdon said the United States is changing gap years, as they often meld studies and travel, including college credit.

Gap years have caught on more in recent years in the United States. Columnists such as Nick Kristof have written extensively about the benefits of gap years and deferring enrollment between high school and college for students.

They tout the benefits of developing cultural competence, gaining self-exploration, connecting across borders, avoiding burnout and exploring the world.

Carpe Mundi has the goal of creating global changemakers. Bourdon describes changemakers as people who learn from their experiences abroad and bring that knowledge and awareness to their home communities.

Bourdon sees the value in international and domestic gap experiences of all lengths. With a semester or yearlong experience, though, Bourdon said students have more time to learn about themselves and be in a reflective space.

“You develop an openmindedness to your own path as well as the paths of others,” Bourdon said. “I really like the teamwork aspect of having to live and work in proximity with other students and cultures and what that teaches you about yourself.”

Galarza notes that international programs such as Carpe Mundi help give a more diverse representation of what America is like through its ambassadors.

“It’s not just the America people see on TV — we’re sending out diversity that shows who we really are,” she said.

At the end of their Friday orientation, Carpe Mundi students step into the backyard of Carpe Mundi and make a circle. Bourdon leads them in a resource exchange, in which students and staff step forward if they need or can offer a particular resource.

Afterward, they offer affirmations to one another. They break the circle and spin inward, student by student, for a big group “cinnamon roll” hug.

“I feel like I’m not going to be scared of the world,” said Corona, one of the Bala classmates. “I worry about my future, but these three months away from everything will be mind changing and help me grow.”

Added Briana Stevenson, a 2012 Reynolds graduate and Damascus resident attending Mt. Hood: “This is going to be life-altering — it’s a game changer.”

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - 'Naturally nomadic' is one of Carpe Mundi's (and the broader Carpe Diem Education's) signature sayings. The Bala cohort sports the phrase on the back of their T-shirts.

Carpe Mundi is a nonprofit scholarship organization that works with first-generation college students from low-income families within the Portland area, connecting them with educational experiences abroad.

Carpe Mundi is holding its annual action fundraiser at Mercy Corps Tuesday, Nov. 12. Tickets are $40. For more information, visit carpemundigala-SRCH.eventbrite.com, call 971-279-4580 or email [email protected]undi.org.

Gap year and study abroad resources for young students

American Gap Association, a professional association among gap year providers founded by Ethan Knight, Carpe Diem Education and Carpe Mundi’s founder: americangap.org/planning.php

Amigos de las Americas, empowering youth leaders through community development projects in Latin America: www.amigoslink.org/

ANDEO International Homestays, andeo.org/

Carpe Diem Education (Carpe Mundi’s parent organization), three-month and yearlong Gap Year and study abroad programs focused on community, cultural immersion, service learning, and adventure: www.carpediemeducation.org/home.php and links to programs in line with its philosophy www.carpediemeducation.org/links.php

Gapyear.com, a gap year, backpacking and travel community

New York Times columnist Nick Kristof writes regularly about gap year experiences

Rotary International, www.rotary.org/en

Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk, “Bring on the Learning Revolution”

Transitionsabroad.com, the high school study abroad and teen section, with articles, programs and organizations