From Guatemala to Portugal: Graduating seniors explore the world

Media Credit: Sam Hardgrove | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Updated: April 11, 2015 at 12:20 a.m.
We spoke to five graduating seniors who are moving far from Foggy Bottom after Commencement. Here’s a look at what they’ll be doing next year.

Fixing planes for the Navy

Media Credit: Sam Hardgrove | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Next month, Polly Drown will ditch the classroom for some more hands-on work fixing planes for the U.S. Navy at a fleet readiness center in San Diego.

While sporting a new uniform of safety glasses, earplugs and steel toe boots, Drown will be testing and repairing parts for a military jet called the F/A-18 Hornet.

“A project isn’t just getting a good grade, it’s actually making something in the real world,” Drown, a mechanical engineering major, said. “Keeping these aircrafts safe for the pilots, I think that will be fulfilling work.”

Her job is part of the government-sponsored Pathways Program, which hires and trains recent graduates for at least a year, though if Drown excels at the job, she could remain at the base longer.

After devoting four years to a major that many of her friends have since dropped, Drown said that the new job makes her feel like the hard work has finally paid off.

“Engineering school is really tough and it’s not anywhere near as glamorous as you think going into it,” she said. “I have had a social life, but not as much as most people would associate with college.”

The Maine native said that growing up, she first realized she was a problem-solver when she would work on home renovation projects with her dad.

“As a kid, I would hold his tools and hang around,” she said. “It got to a point where he would be trying to figure something out and I started chiming in, ‘well Dad, what if you did this?’”

She discovered a love of math and physics a few years later in high school and said that her dream job would involve designing launch vehicles for outer space missions. Drown said she loves that engineering gives her the chance to build something useful for other people.

“The most rewarding part is when it works,” she said. “You’re struggling with something forever and ever and that moment when you figure out a problem that’s going to affect people, it feels very good.”

Exploring the world

Media Credit: Desiree Halpern | Photo Editor

When self-described workaholic Brian Doyle first came to GW, he was ready to study business and make money.

Now after graduation, Doyle will pack his bags and spend a year crisscrossing the globe — starting in Europe and visiting every continent before returning home to California.

“A lot of people in my life have always said, ‘I wish I had traveled more when I was younger,’” he said. “Money is important, but having a life that is a story worth telling is much more important to me.”

Doyle said he’ll spend about one to two months visiting each of the continents, though his trip will likely become more spontaneous over time. He is most excited to visit Southeast Asia and India, potentially co-host a TEDx conference in Greece and make a trip to Antarctica if he can afford it.

“I’m not trying to race around the globe,” he said. “There’s a difference between being a tourist and a traveler, and I want to have more conversations than pictures.”

Doyle said he began saving up for the trip at the beginning of this year, and that he plans to cut his housing costs by staying with friends living abroad or participating in Workaway, a program that gives travelers free room and board in exchange for volunteer projects like English tutoring and farming.

After dividing his time at GW between working as a tour guide and resident assistant, joining Colonial Cabinet, playing club soccer and leading Foggy Bottom’s annual TEDx conference four years in a row, Doyle — a human services and social justice major — said that this trip will be his first opportunity for some time off in four years.

“I’m about to go from never being alone to spending 90 percent of my year alone,” he said. “I want to allow myself to be vulnerable and more open to change.”

As of right now, Doyle has no plans for what he wants to do at the end of his trip. He said he is just as open to settling in one of the countries he visits as he is to working out of an office in New York.

“Three years ago, asking people, ‘What’s your dream job?’ was my favorite question,” Doyle said. “I don’t know if a specific job is part of my dream. There are things I want to accomplish and ways I can change the world and my dream is to always be happy or fulfilled.”

Joining the Peace Corps

Media Credit: Sam Hardgrove | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Marissa Salgado has already visited Mexico, Brazil, Kenya, China and Kazakhstan. Soon, she’ll be one step closer to achieving her goal of traveling the world.

This September, Salgado will begin a two-year stay in Guatemala, where she will be working with the Peace Corps to improve maternal health care.

The Orange County, Calif. native has gone on more than 20 international mission trips with her family and said she’s feeling more eager than afraid of the adjustment. She said the thought of working with the Peace Corps “felt right” ever since she interned at the organization’s D.C. headquarters her sophomore year. Salgado joins three dozen other GW students working for the Peace Corps this year.

Salgado’s responsibilities will include “bridging the gap” between local officials and rural communities in the Northwest region of the country, where she will help locals access hospitals and physicians. She will also be living with a family while she is there, though she does not know in exactly what town or village yet.

“I’m really excited to be leaving the huge city and to be living in the mountains of Guatemala for two years and for that to become home,” Salgado said. “My sense of home has always been transient.”

Salgado said she realized she wanted to work internationally after a trip to China, where she met a missionary who had been living in the country for more than 20 years.
“She told me, ‘Do what makes your heart sing,’” Salgado said. “Since then, that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”

Salgado is graduating with a major in international affairs and a concentration in public health after only three years at GW, during which she also spent a semester in Brazil. She first picked up an interest in public health when she joined GW’s branch of the national Peer Health Exchange program her freshman year and began educating high school students in D.C. about health issues.

Salgado had initially arrived at GW planning to work as a lobbyist on Capitol Hill — and soon realized she wanted her advocacy work to be more “hands-on.”

“There’s something about the office job that’s not for me,” she said. “I need to see the person that I’m helping.”

Becoming a Fulbright scholar

Media Credit: Desiree Halpern | Photo Editor

Nelson Tamayo was originally intimidated by the thought of applying for a scholarship from the Fulbright Program, which boasts alumni including Nobel Prize winners and foreign heads of state.

But last month, the graduating senior was surprised to learn he had received a grant to teach English at a university in Coimbra, Portugal.

“I threw my hat in the ring for Fulbright and I was applying for jobs as a backup,” Tamayo said. “In the back of my mind I was like, ‘There’s no way I’m going to get this.’”

Twenty-seven students applied for the same award in Portugal and only two were accepted last year, according to the Fulbright website. Now Tamayo has earned a stipend that will cover his airfare, apartment and food costs, though he declined to say how much money the program gave him.

Tamayo applied for the program after realizing that spending some time abroad would prepare him better for his dream career of working at the State Department or the United Nations. The Boston native has already traveled throughout Latin America, Europe and Africa and speaks French, Spanish and Portuguese.

During a study abroad trip to Paris his junior year, he briefly visited Portugal’s capital of Lisbon, where he was struck by the country’s culture and history — a mix of Latin American and European influences.

“You go into the process with your heart set on a country,” he said. “When I went to Lisbon, I absolutely loved it. It felt so different.”

Tamayo said he hopes his year abroad will help him gain more international experience before applying to graduate school — he’s looking at GW, Tufts University and Columbia University.

Tamayo said he hopes his year abroad will help him gain more experience before applying to graduate school, and said he’s looking forward to a new culture.

“Meeting people, more so than seeing the artwork, or seeing the sites or lounging on the beach, is really my impetus to get out of here,” he said. “I love finding those commonalities with people who I would have assumed have nothing in common with me.”

Teaching English abroad

Media Credit: Sam Hardgrove | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Though Jennifer Hamilton knew since high school that she would want to volunteer abroad, she had never heard of the Marshall Islands, where she will relocate in July, until earlier this year.

Hamilton will spend a year teaching English at a primary school on one of the islands, located in the South Pacific, for the volunteer education organization WorldTeach.

“Teaching English is really important there. Not enough people speak Marshallese for the most part for textbooks to be in Marshallese,” she said. “If you can’t speak English, you basically don’t get into high school.”

The international affairs major settled on the Marshall Islands after doing some research and finding that it was also the option with the fewest cases of violence against women. After a semester abroad in South Africa where she said she was catcalled on a daily basis, she said living somewhere safer was a top priority.

But the move to a more conservative society will still be a culture shock — men and women rarely socialize together, and women are expected to always wear long skirts and cover up when they go swimming. The self-described “picky eater” added that she is most concerned about the tropical diet.

“They eat a lot of rice, and fish, and bananas and coconuts which are all things I’m not excited about but will learn to live with,” she said. “You eat for sustenance and that’s what’s important.”

At the same time, Hamilton is looking forward to potentially living with families and becoming a part of their tight-knit communities, which she said are full of very generous people.

“Sharing is a very large part of the culture,” Hamilton said. “Giving compliments, like on necklaces, people take it off and would be like, ‘Oh, you like it? Here, you should have it.’”

In the long run, Hamilton said she wants to earn a Ph.D in political science and research comparative politics because she is fascinated by foreign governments.

“Getting experience living abroad was my top priority,” she said. “Learning about the communities I’ll be working with and how rich local knowledge sources are, for anyone who wants to study development, that’s something really important.”

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