Carole and Jay Kennerly have spent decades sharing experiences together – and among the highlights of their years as a married couple are their four service programs with Global Volunteers. From Greece to Cuba and Vietnam to the Cook Islands, the Kennerlys have enriched their lives through service. They offer a glimpse into their journey to Vietnam and why for Jay, it will be an experience he spends the rest of his life explaining.
Carole: It was Jay’s turn to choose our last services program, and it was a surprise to me that he chose Vietnam. I learned that the trip was an “atonement” journey for him.
Jay: The last time I had seen Vietnam was from the deck of an aircraft carrier in another era. I may use the rest of my life discovering how to describe this experience. Clichés like “life-changing” and “amazing” don’t do it justice.
“We eagerly await the time when we can serve again, and learn and grow while experiencing another wonderful country.”Carole Kennerly, Global Volunteers alumna
What was it like working at Foreign Trade University in Vietnam?
Jay: It helps to understand the Asian culture and mind, which most of us from the U.S. don’t, and that gets in the way of communication. However, since my work was, with only a limited exception or two, focusing on “teaching” classes at the university and having lunch in the faculty lounge, the most rewarding moments were in the classroom. In one such situation, I was working with a group of 18 or 19-year-old kids, and had decided to use the first and last verses (all I had in my memory bank) of Emerson’s Concord Hymn as an exercise for the reading, writing, and speaking section of a class.
After introducing it as a poem associated with OUR revolution, I walked up and down the rows of seats “reciting” those two verses while a passion of its meaning betrayed an unanticipated emotion in my voice. They copied, asked for repeats, wrote their final words, and in groups of five, selected a member to read it to the class. Each solo presentation went well as I sat in near-amazement while these kids read a testament of the U.S. struggle for independence. The final group chose to do something different – all five of them came to the front of the room and recited their work together – a virtual CHORUS of young Vietnamese voices from innocent faces nearly singing the words with careful attention to their pronunciation. My heart soared as I managed to discretely dab the damp corners of my eyes while transfixed on the scene before me. Had I been more honest with them, I would have openly wept.
Carole, what can you tell us about your service at Blind-Link?
Carole: Working with blind students was an incredible experience. I have been talking about it with anyone who will listen since I got home. My responsibility was to teach massage students a prepared script designed to help them communicate at a basic level with English speaking clients. Examples: “Please turn over on your stomach.” “Would you like soft or deep pressure?”
After dealing with the script, especially pronunciation, we progressed to additional words such as additional body parts and needed phrases such as “May I put your jewelry in the safe?” On the last coupe of days we were sharing family stories and sharing our “dreams” with the help of halting interpreters. I was amazed at how much humor, intimacy, and trust can develop in two weeks that allow affection to become very powerful.
Part of the success I felt came from realizing that we overcame the “blindness” issue and just became people. I also realized that blindness brings its own gifts, such as highly-developed hearing and sense of touch. It also frees us from concerns such as how we look and what we are wearing that allows more basic and honest communication.
I have received some awards in my life but none I will treasure more than the reception prepared by the students in which I was presented with a framed picture of me with the students that reads, “We love you, Carole.” Needless to say, their sentiments were returned and I left with a full heart that remains with me still.
What do receive by sharing your skills this way?
Carole: This is so personal, it’s difficult to express. Life is so much richer when we make new friends, learn about their culture, and often learn something to take back to our own culture that might help bring insights for peace and understanding. I try to go with an open heart and mind and discover the need in the community and try to help with whatever task is assigned. This approach has never failed me.
“Life is so much richer when we make new friends, learn about their culture, and often learn something to take back to our own culture that might help bring insights for peace and understanding.”– Carole Kennerly, Global Volunteers alumna
Jay: Sometimes a brief exchange of smiles between strangers – hustling up and down stairways between classes – not even “my” students – was enough to make me feel that maybe there was a change that progress was being made. There is, of course, much more to the answer, and there are enough anecdotal experiences to support the sense that we actually were making headway through human interaction, but that might fill a book.
Carole: It makes you feel useful, appreciated and years younger. It is never too late and you should go while you still can.
Jay: It meets my need to be “among the people.” We’ve done guided tours where we were only “observers” with cameras, and came home without an understanding of the real culture we just visited.
What is your advice to other people who may be considering a volunteer opportunity?
Carole: Do not miss this opportunity to travel and explore with kindred spirits and make a difference in your life as well as the lives of those you touch as they touch you.
Jay and I have traveled extensively on our own, with tour groups, on cruises and all of it was wonderful. All travel is, but since discovering Global Volunteers it is difficult to choose other options. It is such joy to become members of a new community, even though it is temporary. But we know what we accomplish is built on previous volunteers and will be continued by the next group of caring and talented people. That kind of continuity is gratifying and comforting.
“We know what we accomplish is built on previous volunteers and will be continued by the next group of caring and talented people. That kind of continuity is gratifying and comforting.”– Carole Kennerly, Global Volunteers alumna
Being able to see more of the world, particularly by immersing ourselves in the culture and getting to know some of its people is like no other form of travel. We work hard, play hard, make friends for a lifetime, and make memories that enrich us every day for the rest of our lives. Not only the people of the places we have traveled (Greece, Cuba, Viet Nam, and the Cook Islands) but fellow volunteers who also care about the world and her people contribute to our lives in a way that traveling as a tourist just can’t provide.
I struggle for words to inform and encourage others of the significance of the experience of serving as a Global Volunteer. The trips are well organized, enhanced by skilled in-country managers, work that is significant, and enough free time to explore on your own. There is no better way to travel and we are so grateful for the opportunity to travel to new places with very interesting people who attempt to do some good in the world. If you want to become a citizen of the world, Global Volunteers is for you.
“If you want to become a citizen of the world, Global Volunteers is for you.”– Carole Kennerly, Global Volunteers alumna
For the past few years serving as Global Volunteers has been one of the highlights of our year. These experiences continue to enrich our lives with people and places that will remain with us forever. We eagerly await the time when we can serve again, and learn and grow while experiencing another wonderful country.
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