Why I went: Our master’s program required us to do two semesters in a foreign country. I chose Cuba for both. I also had the privilege of serving as a teaching assistant for a summer study abroad program there.
How Cuba inspired me: In Cuba, education is highly regarded. It’s not about getting a good job and making a lot of money, but about enriching the culture and the minds of the people. That helped me realize that I wanted to teach, to make a difference in people’s lives, whether there’s money involved or not.
My book: I have traveled more than ever as a result of studying abroad, visiting Europe and South America and traveling throughout the United States and Caribbean.
I’m writing a children's book that captures those experiences. It’s in the final stage of art and will be self-published.
The world through Jupu’s eyes of Jupu the puffin: The book is told from the perspective of a puffin named Jupu, a little bird from Maine, who swims and flies throughout the Western hemisphere.
The story teaches the geography of the Americas. Jupu meets birds from different countries and eats new fruits. He tries guanabana in Puerto Rico, mangoes in the Dominican Republic. A map illustrates where he has been.
Understanding that there are cultures outside of your own is the first step toward tolerance. The book teaches the reader the term "Usonian," which I learned while studying abroad. It refers to U.S. citizens, since the term "American" is for everyone in the western hemisphere (the Americas).
My full-time job: I am director of support programs for Mercy Home, a nonprofit agency in Brooklyn serving persons with developmental disabilities and their families.
In Cuba, resources for people with special needs were not at the forefront of people’s thinking when I was there. Wheelchair accessibility was lacking.
Everywhere I went, there would be staircases or narrow passageways leading to places like a beautiful hall where you would overlook the ocean, eat a wonderful meal. I just kept thinking how not everybody would have access to these spaces. Seeing these things inspired me to live a life of service. It’s why I chose my career.