Global Routes Alumna ALISON VINGIANO (Ghana ’05) has made a name for herself as a New York City comedian and as a prolific journalist. Since her summer with Global Routes, Alison has lived, worked, and traveled across five continents. She cites her summer with Global Routes as one of her earliest travel experiences and the push that set in motion a lifelong passion for exploration and storytelling.
Alison recalls the days leading up the the trip as filled with nervous and excited energy. “I remember picking out the shirt I was going to wear to the airport, and I was nervous about not having access to trivial comforts, like iced coffee,” she recounts with a laugh. Alison says she remembers the travel details very vividly — being surrounded by Ghanaian passengers on the airplane, meeting the other trip participants, and the on-board digital map showing the body of the plane cross over African skies. At last in the village, her group began construction of a school, which was their main service project as elected by the town board. Her group also enjoyed planting fruit trees, painting a mural, and creating a space to play soccer with members of the community. Meanwhile, Alison developed a close friendship with her host sister, who gave her a set of waist beads — a traditional Ghanaian adornment for young girls — which stayed wrapped around her body for two years after the trip.
One vivid memory Alison shared from the summer in Ghana was during the debrief period, on the Cape Coast, as the commotion of the last week in the village came to rest. She took an early morning walk to the beach with a few friends just as the sun was rising. “I maybe had never seen the sunrise in my whole life….I walked down to a rock and spent some alone time on the beach. After an intense week, it was a reflective moment of solitude.” The photograph she took of that sunrise, like the waist beads, represents an important memory for her. More than eight years after the program’s end, Alison maintains contact with friends from the program, and one in particular who also lives in New York.
After finishing AP exams in high school, Alison completed a senior internship at an early childhood care center in Peru. Her adventures down south included hiking in the Andes, sandboarding on giant dunes, and dancing in Ayacucho. Conducting research projects for her college thesis, Alison spent a semester abroad in Prague and backpacked in Europe as far as Spain, Holland, and Greece. The next summer completed a three month fellowship in India that brought her alongside Tibetan refugees for work in education. She recounts adventures like riding an elephant up to a castle in 120˚ weather, and riding a motorcycle on the way down.
After graduating from Bates College in 2011, Alison moved to NYC, where she began working as assistant editor for a documentary project, maintaining a freelance career in writing and comedy. She has performed in comedy festivals, trained in improv at UCB, and has been featured on The Huffington Post, The Atlantic Wire, Hello Giggles, among other sites. A six-week program at Colombia Journalism School called the Colombia Publishing Course solidified her professional commitment; shortly after completing the course she began working as a reporter at BuzzFeed, a social news and entertainment company with about 100 million unique visitors a month. Her posts for BuzzFeed cover topics of international relations, LGBT rights, science, and the arts, and reveal both her comedic wit and concern for the world beyond America.
“Travel has been one of the most important parts of my development as a human being. It has showed how much there is to learn about other cultures, and that life that I experienced growing up in America is just one way to live,” she explains. She says she loves the challenge of travel, which has provoked her to be more adaptable, more optimistic, more sensitive to others, and more self-aware. “I think that’s a big reason why I became a reporter. I love to learn and listen to everybody’s stories,” she added. Alison analogizes a reporter to a traveler, who, too, has to put herself out there, ask questions, know when to step back, and most of all, she must know how to listen.
When asked for a piece of advice for students preparing for their first summer abroad, Alison offered three: first, “Follow the fear” — it’s okay to be afraid going into your adventure, and you’ll lose a lot if you don’t accept the challenge — second, “Let yourself feel all that you’re feeling. Just remember it’s only a few weeks and everything will pass.” Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, “Be optimistic. Embrace this experience, and let yourself laugh. You will grow from it.”
Written by Alison Sever, Tanzania ’08