Life’s Highway

Jennifer Ostrowski - Ecuador

July 10, 2012

As a child, I became very well acquainted with the 242 miles of Wisconsin highway stretching between my grandparents’ house and my own. For as long as I can remember, my brother and I would count down the miles to Grandma’s molasses cookies and Grandpa’s homegrown vegetables from the back seat of our Dodge Caravan.

Despite our eagerness to reach Wisconsin Rapids and our grandparents, the trip was not without the occasional delightful detour. Sometimes we would stop at the cheese factory in Rudolph, where the squeak of fresh cheese curds against my teeth amazes me even today. Warm weather or cold, we were often inclined to visit the Abbotsford ice cream shop, where I would carefully inspect each of the twenty- or thirty-some flavors of ice cream as my family waited impatiently for me to make a selection.

As the years have passed, I have found that life, like road trips, has its detours. So often the destinations we plan for are not the ones we reach, and, for better or for worse, our trips through the years must be rerouted and our gas tanks refilled. For me, the decision to become a Global Citizen Year fellow began as a detour—a quick little sojourn off the highway leading to college. A Google search about volunteering abroad led me to the application, which I filled out largely because dreaming about far-off places was far more interesting than my AP biology homework. When I was contacted for an interview a few weeks later, my “detour” became a few miles longer. Not long afterward, a second phone call informed me that I had been accepted as a Global Citizen Year fellow.

With that phone call, Global Citizen Year outgrew its status as a detour. Today, it has become a trip all its own. I have chosen to take it because I want to volunteer in a community that has not been as prosperous as my own and also because I am fascinated by the sense of community that human interaction can yield anywhere in the world, whether at my grandparents’ house in Wisconsin or in a small town in Ecuador, where I have been placed as a Global Citizen Year fellow.

To be sure, the path I will follow in the coming months will not be as predictable as the road to my grandparent’s house and, for the first time, my family will not be in the car with me. Yet, I look forward to traveling this new road—and to taking any detours that spring up along the way—so that I might make a difference, however insignificant. As I pass over the mountains, down the valleys, and around the other obstacles I am almost certain to find, I hope that I might also learn to approach global challenges not only as an American citizen, but as a citizen of the world at large—which, I suspect, when I finally reach my destination, will be even more rewarding than one of my Grandma’s molasses cookies.

Jennifer Ostrowski