Project Description

During her gap year, Elsa Steiner travelled to Colombia, Switzerland, and Rwanda. In Colombia and Rwanda, she taught English at three different schools. In Switzerland, Elsa volunteered at an organization that worked with refugees and other asylum seekers in order to find them adequate housing and shelter.

After hands-on experience in working with refugees—a desire she’d had since the 8th grade—Elsa learned about prevalent issues surrounding migration in Europe and the United States.

Elsa’s gap year was also valuable in that it also showed her what she didn’t want to pursue when she returned: teaching. Working with students abroad was enjoyable, but she could not see herself pursuing a career in education long-term.

Having a ready community of peer who have had similar experiences and awakenings has helped her optimize both the social and academic aspects of the UNC experience. Since returning to UNC, Elsa has been able to call upon the assistance of her peers in the Global Gap Year Fellowship for advice on what classes or professors she should take.

In the classroom, Elsa often finds herself referring to experiences from her gap year. For example, because of her experiences in Rwanda, Elsa often provides useful insights in her classes on development.

Her experiences in Rwanda ignited a lifelong devotion to helping refugees. In the local community, Elsa devotes her time to the Refugee Community Partnership, an organization that works with refugees in Carrboro and Chapel Hill. As the head of the organization’s health committee, she coordinates community workshops.

On campus, Elsa promotes discussion on what it means to travel and work ethically abroad. At events, in class, and in her social groups, Elsa speaks about voluntourism and the negative effects this practice can have on communities. Reflecting on her work experience and the experiences of others inspires her to spark conversations on what is useful and what isn’t in global engagement in the classroom and community.