The Journey from Dreamer to Doer

Written by Danielle Gehrlein ’21 

If there’s anything that my first year at Pace has taught me, it’s that nothing is off the table when it comes to opportunity.  As a first-generation student, I was worried that this status would limit the amount of opportunities that would be within my reach.  Because I had no one in my family to ask for advice during the college application process, let alone the study abroad process, I wasn’t sure that it was something I would be able to do on my own.  However, it wasn’t until Pace’s education abroad advisors gave a presentation in one of my classes, that I was convinced otherwise.  They showed me that studying abroad knows no boundaries and is an experience that is able to touch the lives of anyone who wishes for it to.  With this new sense of encouragement, I began exploring the programs that were offered, in hopes that the place I had always wanted to travel to, would be on the list…and thankfully it was.

Volunteering in Africa has always been my biggest dream in life, and when I saw that a summer trip to Ghana was being offered through study abroad, I knew that I couldn’t let it pass by.  I began working with children eight years ago, and I haven’t stopped since.  During that experience, I spent two years tutoring underprivileged kids in the inner-city of my hometown – Hopewell Junction, NY – for a service project that I was working on at the time.  The experience extended so far beyond just a service project, as getting to know those elementary students and their stories sparked a level of compassion in me that I never knew existed.  I was baffled at how strong and kind-hearted those children were. They had virtually no support at home and were receiving a less-than-average education, but they moved through life happily.

I eventually became compelled to reach out globally because I knew that if children in my hometown were in such need of educational support, that there must be others in the same or worse positions in areas all around the world.

And so, a little while later, I worked alongside other individuals to send care packages to impoverished areas in Africa.  Through this, I became more aware of the immense lack of educational opportunity that existed in many of the countries in Africa.  This struck me like nothing in the past ever had, and after having completed the project I felt a dire need to one day travel there and help them in any way I could.

Some seven years later, I find myself preparing to finally embark on the journey that I never thought possible, and I’m so incredibly humbled that it has become reality. I’ll soon be boarding the plane that will allow me to achieve my dream of volunteering in the schools of Ghana, and it still feels surreal. I’ve had so many emotions running though me ever since I received my acceptance letter into the program, and those feelings grow more intense with each day that my departure draws nearer.

Gehrlein holding her acceptance letter into Pace’s summer study abroad program

Excitement probably lies at the forefront of all these emotions, but intense gratitude is giving excitement a run for its money.  Seeing this trip become a reality has come as such an incredible shock, that sometimes I find myself pinching my arm to make sure that I’m not dreaming.  When I realize that I’m not, tears flood my eyes as I look back at how far I’ve come and how much further I have left to go.  And so, for this reason, I feel ready to embark on this long-awaited journey.  Of course I’m nervous, but as Mark Anthony once said, “her passion burned brighter than her fears.”  This quote has stuck with me throughout my entire preparation for this trip, as it really conveys my motivation for traveling to Ghana.  Fear shouldn’t be granted the satisfaction of standing in the way of achieving your dreams.  And let me tell you, there is truly no greater feeling than being able to shed the title of “dreamer” and replace it with “doer.”

During my three weeks abroad, I’ll be enrolled in an African Studies program that includes taking two classes and participating in community service opportunities as well.  One of the two classes, and the one that I’m most excited for, is a Service Learning class. Through this, I’ll learn about some of the most devastating issues that locals face in their communities, and eventually go out into the field to help alleviate those problems.  The class covers a variety of issues and informs about volunteer sites that help to lessen the severity of each community problem.  After we learn about each issue and correlated site, the professor will take us on a tour of each, and we will then select which site we would like to complete our field work in.  These sites range from health care centers, to orphanages and elementary schools/ schools for children with special needs, to homeless shelters.

The other class that I’ll be taking to fulfill a Pace requirement for my major, is an African Literature course.  As I plan to teach middle school English, taking a multicultural literature course is a key component of the program track.  Being able to take this course, immersed in the culture that the literature originated from, is something that I know will prove to be incredibly valuable.

While abroad, I’ll be sure to keep you updated on my experience as an American student integrating into a European style classroom, along with stories from my volunteer work, and what it’s like living in Ghana as a first-time international traveler.  I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of this journey, and I can’t wait to share it with you once it’s here!

Until next time,

DanielleDanielle Gehrlein is a rising sophomore at Pace University. She is pursuing a double degree in Adolescent Education and English. She will be in Ghana from July 15 – August 8 and will be posting about her experience here on the School of Education’s blog.