Global Perspective

By Matt Hawkins and Nancy Ridgeway
March 5, 2015

After graduating from Bradley in December, civil engineering alumna Elle Perisin had one more item to cross off her “to-do” list before starting her career.

Influenced by a Spring Break trip last year, Perisin wanted to immerse herself in another culture and help the people there. She returned January 29 from nearly four weeks in Bali, Indonesia, where she taught English to kindergarten students while learning about the Balinese culture.

As an undergraduate, Perisin was active in Bradley’s Engineers Without Borders chapter, which is investing in a long-term project to provide clean water access to a rural village in Guatemala.

“In March 2014, I was one of six students selected to travel to Guatemala. This sparked my interest to do more than just visit a place, but to actually experience what it is like to live there.”

Perisin began searching online for volunteer opportunities abroad and came upon International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ), a volunteer travel company whose mission is to provide affordable, high quality volunteer travel experiences in 30 countries.

“They partner with organizations all over the world to fulfill local needs,” Perisin explained. Among these partners is Green Lion Bali, which has developed volunteer programs in several Asian countries.

Perisin decided to participate in the organization’s kindergarten project for children primarily from poor areas in and around Ubud, Bali. “IVHQ and Green Lion Bali made it possible to immerse myself in the Balinese culture and get a taste of what it is like for those living there.”

During their first week, volunteers participated in an orientation to introduce them to the Balinese culture. “Learning about the culture made it much easier to adapt. The Balinese people are extremely friendly, and we were told that we should always be smiling when we walk down the streets. We really embraced the culture by learning the language of Indonesia, making Balinese art, visiting their sacred temples, exploring rice fields and overall witnessing the tradition and spirituality of this place.”

In particular, Perisin and fellow volunteers were struck by the beauty and religious significance of small flower baskets that dotted the cityscape. As the visitors learned, these baskets were offerings to Hindu gods.

Perisin also learned from the children she taught. “Kindergarteners are full of energy and wonder, but mostly energy. It was intriguing to see just how universal children and their ways are. Teaching a group of children who speak little to no English was definitely a challenge in patience. We danced the Hokey Pokey and made them laugh. We taught them how to give a ‘high five,’ and they taught us how to pose for pictures, peace sign included.”

She added, “Being in the school and seeing children’s genuine excitement about learning has been the highlight of the trip. Their joy brought me joy.”

While in Bali, Perisin lived in a house with 28 other volunteers from Europe, India, Australia, New Zealand, China, Canada and a few others from the U.S. That was a cultural exchange experience in itself. “It has been fascinating to get to know these people and hear about how they were brought up and their ways of life.  It was extremely eye-opening to compare the importance — or lack thereof — of higher education with those from other parts of the world.”

Next on Perisin’s “to-do” list is beginning her career with Strand Associates, an engineering design firm in Madison, Wisconsin, where she will work in the municipal department.

“Immersing myself in another culture and being forced to adapt will definitely benefit me when I move and start a new job,” she said. “My volunteer experience and time on the road strengthened my belief that although climate and terrain are different, the people of this world really aren’t.”