Brenda Shepard, Staff Writer

Last summer, George Mason University graduate student Eve Montavon had the opportunity to travel to Mexico to attend language school and live with a Spanish speaking family. She has been able to take her experiences abroad and use them in her everyday life and work here in America. This new cultural understanding has changed her life, she said.

After graduating from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Col., Montavon found many ways to give back to her different communities. She was director of a Life Skills Program in New York City, director of Outreach and Missions in Alexandria, Va. and a youth director for junior and senior high program at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Springfield, Va.

“We have one life to live, so we should live it to the fullest,” said Montavon. “No one ‘finds’ the time, you have to make time. It’s important to me to be a role model for my four children and the communities I serve.”

She also has been active in many volunteer organizations including World Vision, International Relief Development, the Red Cross Volunteer Disaster Team and a Smithsonian Folk Life Festival photographer, to name a few.

While Montavon was living with her host family, she was able to experience everyday life experiences, such as grocery shopping, church or even going to their elections. Montavon began to pick up basic Spanish quickly because the family she stayed with spoke no English.

“It was a humbling experience,” said Montavon. “There was a lot of charades and [drawing] going on as we tried to communicate, as well as a lot of laughter. Even though they have so many hardships compared to most Americans, they are so joyful and were always trying to help me learn.”

Montavon’s short-term goals upon graduation in the spring include becoming a school counselor and continuing her volunteer opportunities. Her long-term goals include becoming a counselor overseas to work on multicultural issues such as immigration with students. After working in the education field, she also dreams of working with the Department of Education so that she might be able to work on more tangible policy changes to help international students.

“Learning the language gave me some practical cross-cultural communication skills, but living in another culture and learning about another culture has helped me build many bridges and opened up more doors to friendships and relationships that are only possible because ‘I understand,’” said Montavon.

As a result of Montavon’s travels, she has been able to reach out and help others in her work. One example was her experience viewing a Mexican wrestling event which she was able to use to connect with a fourth grader from a Hispanic background.

“The immersion language school experience was challenging academically, stretching socially and cross-culturally amazing,” said Montavon. “I am a changed person from it. I recommend international travel experiences to everyone. When you put yourself in situations like these, this is when you have the opportunity to grow and mature as a person.”

Montavon was able to experience these opportunities with the help of the Rotary International who helped fund her trips. The Rotary Service Group is an international club whose members actively work to make the world a better place. She encourages students to take advantage of scholarships and not to give up on any dreams they may have to travel.

“All the Rotary clubs here and in Mexico have been very supportive, and my sponsoring club [in] Springfield helped make everything go smoothly,” said Montavon. “I am very grateful for all their support and for how Rotarians strive to make the world a better place.”

Through travel experiences, students can learn a great deal about different cultures and other world views. Montavon’s advice for students is to “work hard and make your dreams come true. Persevere. If there’s a will, there’s a way.”