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This week 80 students touch down in four different countries to begin their first semester of college abroad. They will spend the next 13 weeks earning general education credits and traveling the world with our amazing Field Instructors. Who are these phenomenal world travelers and mentors our students will be spending the next few months with? Our team members have pretty awesome adventures and achievements under their belts. Here are just a few of their stories.

Meet the Field Instructor who...

Grew up on a Pineapple Farm

Despite growing up on a former pineapple farm in West Palm Beach, Florida, Cody Ward didn’t eat his first pineapple until he was in his 30’s! “My parents told me I was allergic to pineapples, which ended up being a total lie. I think they just wanted to keep them all to themselves,” he laughed. 

One of Cody’s favorite things about growing up in South Florida was the mix of cultures and cuisines. He remembered, “It wasn’t uncommon to have a café con leche during breakfast at my favorite Cuban restaurant down the street, enjoy a lunch of fresh-made empanadas, and end the day eating tropical fruit grown in my own backyard.” His love of food has carried through his travels. One of the best meals he’s ever had: a tagine of lamb with prunes and sesame in Marrakech. “It was the perfect way to cap off a long weekend of exploring the Moroccan medina and souks and hiking in the Atlas mountains.” 

A Field Instructor on the South Pacific semester, Cody has a masters in higher education administration from the University of Georgia. His beliefs about our responsibility to care for each other as global citizens led to his transitioning into international education, where he has overseen experiential education trips to Ireland, the UK, and the Dominican Republic. He’ll teach the Rhetoric and Composition Course and is excited about how Verto blends the academic curriculum with the onsite experience to create learning opportunities both in and out of the classroom.

Cody has lived twice in London and once in Dublin, in addition to backpacking through much of Europe. He also backpacked through ten of the US National Parks out west. He recalled the trip as one of his greatest adventures explaining, “Hiking Angel’s Landing in Zion, touring the slot canyons of Antelope Canyon, seeing the sun rise over Mormon Row in Grand Teton, or viewing the stars while sleeping in Yellowstone are memories that I will never forget.” 

Cody’s words of wisdom for his future students? “I hope that you’ll use this opportunity to disconnect from technology and connect with one another, to unplug your phones and plug in to the community, and to unfollow social media influencers and start following your passions.” 

Lived Off the Grid in a Tent While Writing His First Book

Professor Joe McClellan has lived and worked all over the world, but his change of address to a tent off the grid was a move his students definitely did not see coming. “My students are always shocked when I tell them that I did not renew the contract for my first teaching job so that I could focus on writing my first book while living off the grid in a tent and driving for Uber and Lyft to make ends meet,” he shared. 

Tent-life was only one of Joe’s many adventures living outside of his hometown in Denver, Colorado. He has visited almost every country in Asia and if that’s not cool enough, he has also lived in Nepal, Bangladesh, and Myanmar (where he still lives) for over a year and a half each! His love for living abroad began when he did his junior year of college in Brazil. “I will never forget my year in Brazil when I was twenty, but these days I consider Nepal something of a second home, and Bhutan is my dream home,” he said. Maybe that’s thanks to the Bhutanese dish Ema Datshi, a stew made of chili peppers, onions and yak cheese, which he said was “the best new food [he’s] ever tried abroad.” 

Joe also lived in NYC for over a decade after earning his PhD from Columbia University’s Department of Religion in 2013 and teaching at Columbia, NYU, The New School, Hofstra, and Marymount Manhattan College. He also taught philosophy, religion, and gender studies at Northland College in Wisconsin, The Asian University for Women in Bangladesh, and currently at the Pre-Collegiate Program of Yangon.  

Despite having lived and taught all over the U.S. and world, Joe describes himself as “a stereotypical outdoorsy Coloradan at heart.” 

Joe is thrilled to be teaching the Comparative Philosophy course in the Southeast Asia program, since, “it is quite rare to have the chance to teach a self-consciously comparative curriculum, and it is exciting to do so in countries steeped in Buddhist tradition and negotiating globalization and the adoption of Western concepts and attitudes.”

After having taught in Asia for the last several years, Joe feels it will be interesting to see through the eyes of Western students, many on their first trip to Asia. 

He shared, “It looks like a fun and rigorous program I wish I had done when I was young!”

Has Been to Every Continent Except Antarctica

Beth Eaneli has been fortunate enough to have traveled to almost 40 countries on every continent except Antarctica. Her favorite country? India. “I love how unique each part of the country is, how warm and open everyone is, how vibrant the culture is and I adore the food,” she explained. 

Beth loves visiting countries that have bustling street food culture and she ranks the Indian thali on the top of her list. She noted, “You don’t really know what will be served to you until it’s on your plate and whoever has cooked the meal will continue to fill your plate until you’re absolutely stuffed. It’s always delicious, always different and such a filling homestyle meal.”  

Beth’s love of food is rooted in the kitchens of her mom and grandmothers, who taught her to cook when she was young. She shared, “My Mom always says my superpower is being able to open a cabinet, fridge or drawer and be able to cook a meal from anything you have on hand. I even figured out a way to make eggplant parm in rural West Africa.”  

Although India is her favorite country, she will always have a “special place in [her] heart” for The Gambia, where she lived for over two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer. The Gambia was also where she conducted research on the narrative of birth in rural communities and the quality of care in labor wards in off grid health facilities without light. 

In addition to her research, Beth’s best stories came out of her time in West Africa, where she explored remote communities and “the beautiful bush.” Her adventures included day trips to Senegal, 100 km bike rides to weekly markets, and the daily thrills of navigating the landscape of life in a new community. 

Most recently, Beth finished her Masters in Global Health with a concentration in International Development Policy at Duke University. She was connected to Verto through her former managers at Rustic Pathways, who thought she’d be a great fit because they knew she has, “a passion for asking students to think critically and curiously about the places and cultures they explore.” As someone who has always thought about how we can make experiential education more accessible, Beth was drawn to Verto’s mission of bringing the non-traditional classroom to more students. 

Beth can’t wait to get to know her students both academically and personally as an instructor for the Identity, Politics and Equity course and Introduction to Cultural Anthropology course in the South Pacific. She says, “Growing together is always my favorite part about this work.” And as a bonus, she added, “I have never been to Fiji or New Zealand either so I am stoked to explore these new places alongside students!”  

Traveled Solo Through Southeast Asia with ZERO Plans

Professor Kelly Chapman had wanted to visit Southeast Asia for as long as she could remember, but couldn’t find anyone who could take time off work to travel with her. She took the plunge one summer and decided to travel solo, where she arrived in Bangkok with nothing but a room reservation for the first night and a return flight scheduled for 30 days later! It ended up being one of her greatest adventures as she explored Buddhist temples in Thailand, hiked in the rolling green mountains of Laos, and kayaked through the rugged Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, all while getting to know fellow travelers she met along the way. 

Kelly’s longest experience abroad was for her dissertation fieldwork where she spent four months in Haiti studying women’s health and access to water resources. She has also conducted research in experiences of race and racism in the American South, health beliefs and hygiene behaviors in Haiti, and epigenetic inheritance related to hypertension. Kelly recently completed her doctorate in anthropology at the University of Florida where she taught anthropology courses in global health, population genetics, research design, biology and culture. 

This is Kelly’s first semester working with Verto, where she’ll be teaching Identity, Politics, and Equity & Cultural Anthropology, in addition to being a program leader. 

She loves how, “Verto allows students to ground traditional academic themes with real-world applications and experiences” and is excited to watch students, “consider the world outside their own experiences and better understand the ways in which we are all connected through history, ecology, and economics.” Despite having worked in all types of fields, Kelly explained that her favorite job is, and probably always will be, working with and teaching students. 

Whether it was seeing the intricate temples in Thailand, the history and culture in Greece, and the turquoise waters in Puerto Rico,Kelly shared that her experiences with other cultures and ways of life made an enormous impact on her. She says, “I can’t wait to share that experience with our students this semester.” 

Was a Competitive Figure Skater Through High School

Competitive figure skating doesn’t quite fit the typical image of an environmental science fanatic… Until you meet Kelley Reardon, of course! Kelley, who was a competitive figure skater up until senior year of high school, competed first in singles and later joined a synchronized skating team. She explained, “One of the best feelings in the world is skating on ice—it’s the closest you can get to flying!” 

Kelley’s other major passion, environmental science, blossomed while she attended day camp as a kid. She recalled, “We spent hours swimming in the ocean and tide-pooling on the rocky coast. It was always the most exciting when we found starfish, sea urchins or young lobsters in their natural habitat, just a few minutes away from my own home in Scarborough, Maine.” 

Her love for nature led her to graduating from Stonehill College with a Bachelor of Science in environmental science and later, receiving a masters degree in environmental policy at Duke. Her conservation research focused on mitigating human-wildlife conflict around protected areas for endangered species like the giant panda and Bengal tiger, where she collected data in the field in rural areas of China and India. 

Three of her four semesters (about 16 months) were spent studying at Duke’s campus in China called Duke Kunshan University. Almost all of her classmates were Chinese nationals. The chance to have authentic Chinese experiences made her time especially memorable.

One of Kelley’s best memories from her time in China was during spring break, when she and two friends took trains all the way from their school near Shanghai to Hanoi, Vietnam. She shared, “It took multiple days each way, but it was the perfect example of how travel is truly all about the journey, not the destination. We actually got to walk across the border between the two countries. I will definitely remember that experience forever.” 

Prior to pursuing her masters, Kelley served in AmeriCorps for three terms. She worked with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to monitor water health and facilitate environmental education activities in the community.

Her third term as part of the AmeriCorps field team was spent building stone staircases and hiking paths on the Appalachian trail! She remembered, “My team camped out for nine days at a time with no showers over the course of 3 months!” 

Kelley will be on the South Pacific semester as an Environmental Science Field Instructor. She gushed, “I’m pretty stoked about the idea of being able to teach what I love and share my passion for wildlife and environmental conservation with others every day as my job!”