Q&A with Gillian Madden, VISIONS volunteer and Leader

Gillian was a teen volunteer with VISIONS in Peru II in 2018, and in 2023 returned as a leader in the Dominican Republic!

What does your daily life look like right now?

I am attending Long Island University’s Global program which allows me to study in a different country every year as I work toward a degree in Global Studies. This year, I am studying in Australia with extended experiential learning field trips to Fiji, New Zealand, and Bali. I spend my days learning about the world’s most pressing issues through political, cultural, environmental, and economic lenses and the solutions to them. I have so much fun getting the chance to travel so often and deeply connect with the places and people I visit.

What does the word community mean to you?

Community means many things to me. Overall, I believe community is a support system made up of individuals who all contribute to and lean on each other. I find community in my classmates, who I live and study with. We rely on one another, encourage each other, work together, and continue striving to make our space and experience better. I also find community in each place I live, when I make friends with people whose shops I visit often or participate in local events. I certainly find community in VISIONS through keeping up with my fellow participants from years ago, staying connected to the home office, returning to be a VISIONS leader and befriending my co-leaders, and getting to meet a new generation of VISIONS kids.

What was most memorable about your VISIONS experience?

The most memorable part of my VISIONS experience was sitting around the campfire at Homebase and either doing Circle, “ayllu,” or just talking and hanging out, sometimes someone would play the guitar and another would sing. It was wonderful to come together at the end of the day and connect about all that we got to see and learn and do that day. I think about these memories often now because I get to do a similar thing with my class when we are processing field trip experiences or camping, and it is what I was most looking forward to before my summer as a leader.

What did the VISIONS experience teach you?

The VISIONS experience taught me how capable I am. It was my first time flying to another country on my own, and once I was there I was entrusted with a healthy amount of freedom to explore, linguistically navigate, and be responsible for myself. I learned that I can thrive when I push myself into an entirely new environment. I would not be where I am today, continuing to travel around the world while earning a college degree, if I had not been a participant in VISIONS. And I certainly would not have the confidence for my upcoming Vietnam solo-trip that I am super looking forward to!

In what ways, big or small, would you like to change the world?

I would like to change the world in small ways. I’m a big fan of “think globally, act locally” in every way possible. Among so many things, I think a large part of the world is lacking true listening. I believe if people were able to actively listen to others more everyone would share a greater understanding and it would be the first step in working together to solve pressing global issues. I was first introduced to the power of listening in Circle and the concept has followed me ever since. I hope to change the world in small ways by continuing to practice how to deeply listen to everyone I encounter. I will create change by allowing people to feel heard, applying the knowledge I gain from listening and making connections with the world.

What would you like to say to other members of the VISIONS community?

I would absolutely not be where I am today if not for my experience with VISIONS. My time in Peru inspired me to continue seeking out intentional travel, and now I spend way more time outside of the country than in it. 

Owen Clarke is a writer for VISIONS. A career outdoor journalist, his work appears in 30+ international magazines, including Iron & Air, Climbing, Outside, Rock and Ice, SKI, Trail Runner and The Outdoor Journal. He is also the executive editor of Skydiving Source and Indoor Skydiving Source.

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