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Alexandra SantiagoMaking a Difference in the World: Alexandra Santiago, Environmental Studies major

Not many students would choose to spend their winter break driving four hours a day over rough terrain to dig trenches. But that’s just what Alexandra Santiago did. In her freshman year, with nine others in the Stony Brook chapter of Global Water Brigade, she traveled to Honduras to help bring a new irrigation system to a rural village.

“It was a great adventure and a chance to really make a difference,” says the Environmental Studies major, who has participated in three international experiences while at Stony Brook. “We worked alongside the community and, even though we didn’t speak the same language, we communicated very well. We taught each other a lot.”

An international organization, Global Brigades is the world’s largest student-led global health and sustainable development organization. In additional to digging trenches, Alexandra’s group held a community day in which they shared information with residents on how to maintain and repair their new water system. They also visited children in orphanages. The group, then in its pilot year, traveled to Honduras along with the Stony Brook chapter of Global Medical Brigades.

Alexandra, a senior, has never let her course requirements get in the way of pursuing her passion. “I do things for experience, not because they match my major.” Her goals: to meet people, help people, improve the environment and promote good health.

She has found ample opportunities at Stony Brook. Following her trip to Honduras Alexandra went to Tanzania with the anthropology department’s study abroad program and visited the Maasai, an indigenous culture of cattle herders, to learn about their culture. The program allowed her to explore both rural and urban communities. During the four-week trip she stayed overnight with a family, “hung out” with them in the moonlight in the middle of the desert, and helped them take care of the cows.

“It was an extremely eye-opening experience,” she reports. “You realize how blessed you are, how much opportunity you have. Once you understand that, you never want to give up your time doing anything but what you love doing. You know that life is too short, and you know you want to make a difference during your time here.”

In the spring of her junior year, Alexandra studied abroad in Florence, Italy. “All my life I’ve been working at a New York minute, and for those four months, I was able to take it slow,” she says. “This trip helped me realize what was important to me. First, that it doesn’t matter where you are, it’s about the people  you surround yourself  with. Second, that I will always do what I love and never compromise.”

pullquoteThis year Alexandra was selected from more than 60 applicants to receive the 2012 United University Professions (UUP) Undergraduate Scholarship Award for demonstrating a commitment to academic excellence, social justice and labor ideals.

“Amazing opportunities and people have come my way,” says the Rocky Point native, who is currently applying for fellowships in New York City following graduation. They involve another of her interests: city planning. “I want to try a lot of different projects and then decide what I want to pursue. I have a huge bucket list.

“Some people take a year and a half to plan out one day — their wedding — but they don’t sit down for 15 minutes and plan their life. Through my experiences I realized how important time is. You can always make more money or build more friendships, close networks and manifesting experiences, but you can never turn back the clock.”

What better time than now, for this young world traveler with friends around the globe.

“For me, it’s all about meeting people,” says Alexandra. “I love people and love seeing their perspective. Our differences are what’s beautiful.”

 

—Toby Speed

 

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