A twentysomething’s international journey to finding herself.

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Now more than ever, twentysomethings are picking up and spending days, weeks, months, and even years in a country that is not their own. The travel bug affects people of all ages, but international travel in your twenties can help shape who you are and who you will be in years to come.

Alyssa, originally from Ohio, knew she wanted to work with children, specifically in developing communities. During her junior year at Vanderbilt, she studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa where she participated in a service-learning program. Alyssa chose to teach in Manenberg, a township of Cape Town known for its violence, drug problems, and child abuse, and previously known as the “gang capital of the world” – a bit different than Ohio.

With so many issues surrounding the children in that community, Alyssa created an innovative program for the group of five to seven year olds she worked with. The best way for children to understand different ideas is through stories. So Alyssa decided to utilize a technique called bibliotherapy, which uses children’s literature as a form of therapy.

Alyssa loved watching the children unpack their issues through reading various stories, and she fell in love with learning about the education systems and community development in Cape Town. Something clicked with her there – and she knew she wanted to “connect what I really care about to make a difference in communities that I care about” in the future.


When Alyssa graduated, she took a teaching job in Nashville Public Schools to be close to her family and meet the great needs in the domestic school system, despite an ongoing itch to work internationally. A few months in, she ended up getting into Vanderbilt’s International Education Policy Master’s program, and has spent the past two years studying what she loves.

During her Master’ studies, Alyssa was fortunate enough to return to Africa two more times.  She had connected with a local doctor in Uganda who worked with a network of preschools surrounding his village. Alyssa started working on a curriculum for the preschools while in Nashville, and then traveled to Uganda the next summer to help on the ground-level with teacher training, curriculum development, and evaluation for their funders.

She was also able to procure another internship in South Africa and ended up creating a teacher development framework for a province. Her experience working with the higher-level vision of a system, looking at issues and trying to manipulate resources, was just as wonderful as her time spent doing grassroots level work.

During her second year of graduate work, Alyssa began to take more business and finance classes, with the mindset that they would be a good foundation for working in the nonprofit world.  She learned more about the concept of social enterprise and applying a for-profit model to a for-good mission.  Still intending to move back to Africa, she got involved with a start-up company working in the education system, and then was soon connected with Trevor, founder of TeachTwice and a friend from Vanderbilt. While the old friends caught up, conversations continued about her taking a larger role in TeachTwice, and the position evolved into Alyssa becoming the new Director.

Trevor Burbank Teach Twice 2

Alyssa’s advice to anyone in their twenties is to live your passion. “At the end of the day, if you’re doing something that you’re passionate about, you will be much more successful at it, and create an amazing reputation for yourself,” Alyssa says. “Generally the world needs passionate people who aren’t going to get burnt out doing something that they’re not passionate about,” she says. “Who knows? You could and should end up being paid well for your skills and passion in the end.”

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