Jesus Quintana traveled to many countries on a study abroad program and returned not with souvenirs or mementos, but instead with a new lease on life.
The Illinois Valley Community College student said he was always a “floater” and was never excited to truly excel in his courses, but the experience left him with new motivation and a number of friends from across the globe.
“They really shaped me into who I am now and I’m still continuously growing and adapting and reflecting on my experiences on the tour and applying it to everyday life here,” Quintana said.
In fact, it’s that inspiration that led him to take part in the IVCC walkout in late-March. The demonstration was organized in remembrance of the 17 victims of a mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., and as a way to bring awareness to violence in school.
Quintana first found the international nonprofit Up With People when looking at study abroad programs online. The program encourages students to become "positive agents of change,” according to Quintana.
The six-month program had Quintana traveling the globe and singing hit songs from multiple decades for a two-hour program.
Quintana, who had never been a part of choir or musicals in school, was intimidated at first but also found it as a great bonding experience.
“(Music is) sort of a universal tool really and it connected everybody so well and the group was so diverse,” Quintana said.
Part of the process dealt with getting Quintana out of his comfort zone and getting him into the “challenge zone”.
He said the challenge zone is the place where the students were challenged to do more than they were used to taking on.
“Because that’s where you grow the most,” Quintana explained. “If you’re always in your comfort zone then you won’t be able to grow as much."
He visited locales in Italy and Switzerland, which he returned to over spring break to visit friends, but his personal favorite stop was Germany for its “beautiful” geography and thick bread.
“It’s just so tasty. Bread is not the same anymore,” he said with a laugh.
The student was also exposed to different walks of life and specifically found inspiration when working with refugees.
Quintana said the stories they shared about their own personal struggle encouraged him to seek out others in need and give aid.
“The way they were treated was heartbreaking but also inspiring because they have to be so strong to go through that and do what they can with what little energy they still have,” Quintana said.
Since returning home, Quintana has gotten more involved in group organizations such as Hispanic Leadership Team and IVCC College Democrats, which were some of the organizers of the IVCC walkout event.
He’s also applied himself more in his classes so that he can succeed and get a job in crop sciences. From there he hopes to create a business to help those in need in third-world countries to find crops they can grow.
For now though, he’s focused on his classes and said he’s receiving high marks across the board.
Still, he’s excited to pack his bags again in the future and meet new people whom he hopes will continue to inspire him.
“The world is a big place,” he added. “There’s so much to see out there. You don’t want to contain yourself to one area. You really want to broaden your horizons.”