GLA Alum Demonstrates Impact of Teenage Travel

Name: Adam Willis
Hometown: Berlin, MA
Education: University of Massachusetts, Class of 2017

Check out other Gamechangers on The Young Leader.

Interests and Passions:
Firm believer that summertime means “no shoes unless you’re working”
Vegetable farmer on a 7th generation family farm in his hometown
Confirmation sponsor for two young Catholics

Transformational Experiences: China, African Leadership and Service, Service in the Sacred Valley

Making an Impact: Demonstrating the value of travel for personal and professional growth

“I firmly believe that the more people who have the opportunity to learn about themselves and give back to others, the better off our world will be.”

Adam Willis

Leadership through Compassion

It’s easy to miss how unique Adam Willis is when you first meet him.

Easygoing, a natural leader, and incredibly compassionate, he’s the type of young man who feels like he could be your neighbor or classmate. He plays basketball. He has a job. He can talk to anyone– and he makes an effort to do so.

When GLA Director of Admissions Jessica Miller initially met Adam, she saw “an all-American teen, eyes wide with curiosity, a deep intellect and an interest in Chinese culture and Mandarin language.”

He had just arrived in Beijing, China for his first GLA Program, and he had worked ardently to fundraise for the trip and convince his parents to allow him to go. By the end of his three weeks in China, “Adam had fully embraced exploring the world and had furthered his passion for the Chinese culture, and I realized how special he was. He threw himself completely into the experience- and it was reflected in his attitude and genuine appreciation.”

This love and appreciation for immersion in new cultures led Adam to travel on two additional GLA programs after his experience in China. South Africa and Peru were next on his list.

“One of the most amazing things about traveling and experiencing new cultures is the opportunity to have dialogue with those who are different than you. That level of diversity is a driving force in my passion for immersion in developing countries. I’ve learned so much about myself and opened up to the world around me. Every time I travel, I learn more about different people and places in the world- and it’s impossible to pick a favorite."

Adam’s appreciation for travel is vast, and so is the lens through which he views the opportunities that await in his future.

“My GLA programs were incredibly eye-opening to me. From learning about the intense urban issues South Africa faces to hiking Machu Picchu, I grew to love the people and cultures that I experienced. I realized, though, that I couldn’t pick a favorite. There wasn’t one thing that stuck out to me, or one country where I knew I needed to focus my energy. Instead, my time spent with GLA gave me an appreciation for the process of being immersed in a new place. It’s an experience unlike any other.”

Thanks to his love for experiencing diverse cultures and spending time in developing countries, Adam is pursuing an International Fares Certificate (in addition to advanced language study in Spanish and Mandarin) at the University of Massachusetts. He hopes to use the lessons he has learned through travel to inspire others.

“Travel is all about opening yourself to new experiences and embracing the personal transformation that takes place. I don’t feel bound by the regions and cultures I’ve already been exposed to. Instead, I’ve come to realize that you can experience those same transformations in an infinite number of places- whether you’re on the other side of the world or in your hometown. You simply have to open yourself up to them.”

For now, Adam is continuing to learn as much as he can, while determining how best to transform his appreciation for travel and personal growth into a career.

“I’m still in the process of learning Mandarin, I am reading a book on Peru, and I’m wearing a bracelet that I bought in South Africa 2.5 years ago. GLA has completely impacted me, and completely impacted my attitude and goals for the future.”

He’ll keep that influence in mind as he moves forward.

“Who knows- maybe one day I’ll start my own service program. I firmly believe that the more people who have the opportunity to learn about themselves and give back to others, the better off our world will be.”