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MUHS grad travels globe with a purpose

MIDDLEBURY — They say that people who can’t stay in one place for very long have been bitten by the travel bug.
Chuck Hill must’ve been bitten by a swarm.
The recent Middlebury Union High School graduate globe-trotted to Cambodia a year ago and spent three months in India this past spring, earning credits toward graduation and laying the groundwork for a potential career in foreign relations. Now he’s getting ready to pack his bags again, this time for a nine-month trip to Ecuador beginning this September, where he will immerse himself in Spanish and volunteer in efforts to help others.
“It has definitely been life changing,” Hill, 18, said last week of his travels.
“I hope to (emerge from this) more as a leader for my community and for myself.”
His first trip, to Cambodia during the summer of 2012, was as part of a film and photography group that focused on telling the stories of the indigenous Khmer people.
“It … opened my eyes to travel,” he said of that eventful voyage.
Once back in Middlebury, he made a connection with “Where There Be Dragons,” a company that organizes student travel throughout the world. He signed up to spend the final semester of his senior year in northern India, based in the city of Varanasi, on the banks of the Ganges River.
“Instead of reading informational texts about the geography and people of India, I was earning the last three credits of my high school career studying Hindi and Buddhism,” he explained of the trip, which offered an opportunity for cultural immersion and self-awareness in what he called “a place that seemed like the most distant location out there.”
He stayed with a host family for two months. While there, he and his small group of companions attended a Buddhist retreat, completed a trek into the Himalayas, visited temples and, of course, learned about the culture and customs of India. Area professors from Banaras Hindu University and local experts in their respective fields presented lectures to students on such topics as the role of women in a Hindu and Muslim country, economic issues of the caste system, and environmental sustainability.
“I picked up a little bit of Hindi,” he said, referring to the language.
Hill also observed real poverty, rubbing shoulders with people who were malnourished and in many cases, homeless. Hill sympathized with their plight and at the same time admired their perseverance.
“After a while, you got used to it,” he said of the scenes of poverty. “It’s not something you look down upon.”
He said he and the other members of his group felt they were well received by the Indian citizens they encountered.
“We were impressed with the people and how friendly they were and how open they were on most issues,” he said.
He returned to Middlebury this past spring exhilarated and hungry to see more of the world. So he jumped at the suggestion that he embark on another international trip through Global Citizen Year, a nonprofit  organization that recruits and trains “a diverse corps of high-potential high school graduates and supports them through a transformative ‘bridge year’ before college.”
Participants are sent to countries in Africa and Latin America to immerse themselves in communities and contribute to local efforts in education, technology, health care and the environment. In the process, the students become more worldly and independent, and pick up leadership skills to help them in college, according to the Global Citizen Year website.
Since he’d taken Spanish at MUHS, Hill picked Ecuador as his destination for Global Citizen Year. While in Ecuador, he expects to be assigned to either a school or a hospital to help out in any way he can.
“I’ll be doing an apprenticeship,” he said. “I will develop activities and support the staff,” he said.
He will head out next month and spend a month in the city of Quito before receiving his assignment.
Hill knows it will be strange and perhaps a little difficult to not see his family for almost a year, but he believes his past two trips abroad have readied him for what’s to come. His parents, Lili Foster and Roger Hill, have encouraged him to take on the adventure.
Upon his return from Ecuador, Hill will enroll at Curry College in Milton, Mass., where he will study communications and foreign affairs.
“I think the travel will help me improve how I think about the world and how I live my life,” Hill said.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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