By Annie Reifsnyder, Academic Year Program, Area Coordinator for Southeastern Wisconsin

Annie center, with CCI & Greenheart staff

When I was a junior in college I went into the study abroad office and picked up a brochure about spending four months in Kenya.  My advisor chuckled and said – that program is amazing – but you will spend the rest of your life searching out experiences that top your time there.  I hesitated and began to put the brochure away, but in the end I grabbed it and jumped on a plane to Africa completely changing my life and the direction it headed.

I came to CCI in search of international experiences while in Milwaukee.  I wanted to help shape the American lives of students much like my younger self who had chosen something different; a unique opportunity to impact the course their future would chart.  My time with CCI has been short, but my experiences vast and memorable.  I literally have three teenagers who I confide in, serve with, and look forward to seeing on a regular basis.  They have turned me into a better person.  I also have made lifelong friendships with other local coordinators and our amazing CCI staff.

During Presidents’ weekend, I got to see a perfect snapshot that summaries my time with CCI and how much I truly love my job.  Erica Rohrs and I hosted a group of 15 exchange students.   They renovated a center devoted to helping teen parents, explored Navy Pier, danced at Ed Debevics, expanded their knowledge at the Museum of Science and Industry, and soared to new heights in the Willis Tower.

Throughout the weekend we had help from amazing CCI staff members who gave up their time to help us volunteer and organize.  We also met amazing host families who are the real rock of this organization and inspire me daily for all the countless acts of kindness they do for our students.  However, the real treat was seeing the students interact with each other.

They swapped stories, compared experiences, and laughed a lot.  For some of them it was a time to unleash and speak their native languages – to feel a bit of home so far away.  Andrea from Venezuela so eloquently stated that her favorite thing about the trip was the people, it did not matter what they did.  The fact is that even as a well-traveled local coordinator I can never fully relate to their experiences here only they can to each other’s.

I knew CCI existed to help social transformation and cross cultural understanding, but to see such bonds form this weekend for our students was incredibly humbling.   To live Greenheart and see it embodied transformed me.  So, thanks to the amazing people within CCI, my students, and all those we hosted this weekend – I can safely say another life experience has surpassed the incredibly high standard I was hesitant I would be able to recreate.

The group after volunteering.

Watch a video with highlights from the trip: Chicago Invasion of Greenheart Proportion