Danielle Smelcer

Danielle Smelcer - Curriculum Coordinator
Danielle Smelcer - Associate Director

When I was 16 years old I took a psychology class. On the first day of class the teacher asked everyone “who are you?” and then waited for someone to speak up. After a couple minutes of real awkward silence, I stood up and told her and my peers who I was. I included my family and where we came from, my favorite foods, my hobbies, my friends, where I worked, and finally that I aspired to someday become a teacher abroad. I remember thinking that I had it all planned out. I knew who I was and where I was going and I liked that.

Now life has a way of taking you down paths you never saw yourself in. Sometimes these changes were a result of choices I had made and sometimes they were the result of things completely out of my control. Fast-forward to 12 years later and I while I have never lived abroad and taught in a traditional classroom the way my 16 year old self had envisioned, I have visited a total of 11 countries on 4 continents. I helped maintain a garden in Germany, worked on an olive farm/vineyard in Italy, served in a Café in Ireland, worked at a local hostel in the UK, and lead international school students on outdoor adventures and cultural activities in China. The other passion I have developed since high school is teaching environmental education. I have done so in Idaho, Colorado, and China.

Both of these experiences have shaped who I am today. They were not the traditional experiences I saw for myself back in that psychology class but they were exactly what I never realized I needed.

Being abroad I learned how to communicate with people who didn’t share my native language (hand gestures and sound mimicking became some my tools abroad). I learned to be humble and respectful when stepping into a foreign land. I’ve learned how to appreciate where I come from but how valuable it is to learn how someone else lives. I’ve learned how to navigate in a place where I can’t read or understand anything, by using the tools that I have available and logically thinking things through. I understand how to be flexible when things don’t go as planned and how much fun and exciting it can be when they don’t. I know how to travel and have adventures on a budget and that this often leads to more authentic experiences.

Environmental education taught me the value of experience based education. I no longer wish to just read things out of a book. I want to learn by seeing, hearing, feeling, and tasting. I won’t remember reading about a tea ceremony in China, but I can tell you all about one because I had the opportunity to be a part of it.

I feel more connected to the world around me both locally and abroad because of the experiences I have had abroad as well as within my home country. Having the courage to step out of my comfort zone has opened the entire world for me. I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything. It wasn’t exactly what I pictured as a 16 year old in my psychology class but I had an instinct to get out into the world and I followed it. I believe everyone has that instinct and I hope that my future allows me to assist more people to step out of their own comfort zones and experience the world.

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