After taking a hiatus since 2019 due to COVID, CEOs of Tomorrow’s Global Excursion Program is looking to take a group of 10 eager students on a trip to The Gambia this summer. The organization along with Dr. Roxie Hentz, the founding executive director of CEOs of Tomorrow, are no strangers to the West African coastal country. With prior experience connecting with students in The Gambia through CEOs of Tomorrow as well as the 2019 trip, Hentz is sure that the experience will be just as successful in letting this group of young people make the journey, too.
“COVID has put not only our youth in a position where they haven’t been able to engage in a deep level, even locally with their peers, but it’s done that to all young people around the world,” Hentz said. “So we’re at a ripe time to bring people back together again, and to build those strong relationships. In this case, building strong cross-cultural relationships while also empowering each other. Although we’re going there to invest in the youth with entrepreneurship education, our youth are also being invested in. We’re working with high school students from two different schools and we will be able to teach culture to our students.”
Almost all of the teens who will be going on the trip to The Gambia will be traveling on an airplane for the first time, Hentz adds.
Julia Dinimick-Bell, one of the students in the Global Excursion Program, is looking forward to the prospect of all that is to gain in travel and human connection saying, “I’m really excited about just learning the culture while being in a completely different continent,” she told Madison365. “The culture, the geography, the food, the language, and the history, that’s what I’m really excited about.”
Cynthia Bell Jimenez echoed her daughter’s sentiment saying, “We are super excited about this opportunity. We believe when kids are able to go to other countries and explore different cultures, they become global citizens.”
The benefits also do not stop at the experience itself. Since the program was correlated to a Madison College course through a memorandum of understanding (MOU), students will also earn college credit, Hentz said, and with an MOU with MMSD and a recent one with Sun Prairie School District, the students will also earn high school credits.
Hentz’s intentional focus on broadening the horizons for students comes from her own prior experience in South Africa which served as inspiration for the 2019 trip to The Gambia that is making a comeback.
“Rather than just sitting in a classroom and reading it in a book, gaining context that way, they have full immersion into the learning experience within the culture that exists and is unlike their own,” said Hentz. “The college credits, the high school credits, and the experience in and of itself, puts our students ahead. It gives them that step ahead because they’ve experienced something that many youths and adults have not yet experienced. We know that it’s through experiences where we as people, particularly young people, realize opportunities.”
In reflection on new experiences, student Quinton Maddox looks forward to traveling to Africa saying, “There’s more power in more perspectives, and I think in Wisconsin, we only get a handful of perspectives. When you travel to a different country on a different continent, you meet a lot of new people with different customs than you, and you get a better perspective on how the world works.”
While Quinton’s father, Dwayne Maddox, reflected on the opportunity as a, “…sort of self-discovery that comes with being out in the world and depending on yourself to find solutions and find your way through the things you enjoy.”
A notable part of the trip will be the opportunity to connect with the Gambian students who participated in a CEOs of Tomorrow virtual summer academy last summer. The opportunity to learn and teach between the students will surely result in both academic and cultural exchanges of knowledge. Hentz hopes that the experiences students will be able to have in The Gambia will carry on to leave a life-changing impression on them.
“When you travel out of the country, and when you see that you can have experiences and thrive in other places, it allows you to see that the world is at your doorstep,” said Hentz. “The world is there for you, and you belong everywhere. When that happens, your career options broaden, your educational options broaden, your sense of belonging broadens, and your sense of self, who you are and what you mean, broadens. When I think of our students who went in 2019, they all came back saying, ‘The image that I’ve been given of this country is so different from the reality of what I’ve experienced.’ That’s important for all people. It’s one thing to see something on television or read it in a book. It’s another to form true authentic relationships in a country other than your own.”
Sidney Moore, another student looking forward to connecting with fellow Gambian students, was excited for the trip telling Madison365, “It’s such an amazing opportunity that not many other kids have, and it will benefit me, but also the teens in Africa that we’ll be talking to. It’ll give me an experience of a new culture while doing something that I love, teaching kids and coaching them on different things.”
Bruce Moore shared his daughter’s excitement for a trip they have envisioned for a long time saying, “For me, now, it’s more than a dream come true. It’s this opportunity, which is part of a goal of making my child, not a child of Madison, but a child of the world.”
To learn more about the program and donate to the fundraising effort, visit the JustGiving page here.