Teen Volunteer Experiences a New Culture Within the U.S.

Jezrel participated in the VISIONS Montana Blackfeet program in the summer of 2013, and like so many of our high school volunteers, he’s up to amazing things these days, much of which revolve around community service. While studying as a freshman in college, he’s also working on a Global Initiative for the Clinton Foundation and is slated to meet Bill Clinton this March. Here, Jezrel talks about his summer in Montana, and where he hopes to be 10 years from now.

Tell us about your experience on the Blackfeet Reservation.

My experience in Montana was eye-opening and life changing. Even though we were still in the United States, we saw an alarming level of poverty and hardship within the rez that one would typically associate with a developing foreign country. Moreover, it was wonderful to experience a culture that has been virtually forgotten by the “outside world.”

We got to participate in a multitude of traditional Blackfeet rituals. Perhaps the most poignant one was when we went on a sweat lodge. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will never forget, and it was such an honor and privilege to be part of the ceremony. Also, I’m passionate about the environment, so being surrounded by the picturesque Glacier National Park was such an amazing sight. Waking up to the most beautiful sunrises, breathing in crisp fresh air, and witnessing abundant wildlife all throughout made my Montana experience more memorable.

What kinds of things did you take away from the VISIONS experience?

I went home from my VISIONS experience with memories that I will cherish forever. I loved every moment, and it would have not have been as great without the friends I made during the trip. We would do regular “kanatapis,” which means circle, where we would talk about anything from our feelings to our goals, and even settle some disagreements. It was awkward at times, but we got to know each other really well, and learned a lot from each other.

We did everything together: we ate together, we worked together, we traveled together. We had people from Spain, China, Mexico, and both sides of the coasts, and coming together as a group, seemingly coexisting and enjoying each other’s company puts a smile on my face every time I think about it. I think it’s the best thing that I got out from my trip, the fact that despite everything that’s going on in the world right now, people of all backgrounds can come together, put each other’s differences aside, and have the greatest time of their lives.

As for tangible objects, I brought home a Montana license plate and a dream catcher, since I collect both items. I have them hanging on my wall, along with pictures of my friends from the trip, constantly reminding me of one of the greatest summers of my life.

What are you up to now?

I’m currently a freshman at the City University of New York, Baruch College majoring in Business Communications and minoring in Psychology.

I’m also working on a Global Initiative for the Clinton Foundation that raises cultural awareness in the New York Metro Area with a focus on Colombia, Turkey, and the Philippines, with plans to expand to other regions. I’m working with VISIONS to add the Blackfeet Nation to our program. Also, my team’s Global Initiative has been approved by the Foundation, and we are invited to a conference in Miami this March hosted by Bill Clinton. We will meet with other college students from all over the world and discuss topics like education, poverty alleviation, environmental protection, peace, human rights, and global health.

I’m also currently a marketing and communications intern at Kognito Interactive, a company that designs virtual programs that deal with LGBTQ, veteran, and student mental health. And lastly, I recently got back from a month-long marketing internship and cultural exchange program in Brazil over the winter break where I worked with a local NGO that teaches English, French, and Spanish.

How did your VISIONS experience help to prepare you for where you are now and what’s still to come?

Before I went to Montana, I went through difficult moments when I just felt like I wasn’t worth much, and like there was no point in trying. I constantly felt sad and unmotivated. However, I gave VISIONS a shot, and in the end, I had one of the greatest experience in my life. I made life-long friends and I took home memories that I will treasure forever. I learned that despite feeling like there is no hope, there’s always going to be a brighter day ahead. Now, every time I feel like giving up, I always think about my experience with VISIONS, and how if I just push through, give it another shot, and keep on going, there’s no reason for me not to have another Montana-like experience in my life. That gives me hope and motivation to do the best I can everyday.

What do you hope to be doing in 10 years?

I hope that I’m living in Copenhagen. It’s been my dream to live in Europe for a while now, and Denmark seems to be the perfect fit. I’m not sure what exactly I’ll be doing there, but I want to travel a lot. I think traveling is the epitome of learning. You learn about other people’s culture, traditions, language, and above all, you learn so much about yourself. It opens your mind to a billion of possibilities, and it leaves you with a great sense of satisfaction. So, 10 years from now, I hope I’m on a plane flying to somewhere exotic, or on a train cascading down the Alps, or simply sitting in my living room in my Copenhagen apartment filled with pictures of my travels around the world.

For more information about VISIONS Montana Blackfeet, go here.

For more information about other VISIONS programs, go here.

VISIONS in The New York Times