I feel like a Thanksgiving turkey; I’m stuffed.  Along with my Alliance Abroad family, we celebrated Thanksgiving, remembering the many reasons we have to be thankful. But besides the full stomachs we got from feasting on succulent turkey, delicious side dishes and decadent desserts people brought to share, we concluded our celebration with full and thankful hearts.

Our founder and CEO, Victoria Lynden, began the festivities by sharing a tender tale about her family’s Thanksgiving tradition. They were poor, in fact, very poor, but Victoria says she didn’t know it then.  She only remembers the riches of food and the many friends who came to enjoy it. What she didn’t realize, in the innocence of her youth, was that most of the people who came in search of friendship and food were homeless.

We sat in stunned silence, contemplating the very idea of the poor feeding the poorer.

Victoria then asked us to watch Worlds Apart, a video produced by Heineken. People of very different – in fact polar opposite – political beliefs were paired together to work on a project, unaware of their differing views.  As they collaborated on the manual labor project, they talked, revealing things about themselves and getting to know one another.  The feeling of a growing camaraderie was palpable.  They were building, connecting, learning and understanding.

When they had finished the project, realizing that the puzzle pieces of their separate projects fit together to make a bar, they were asked to watch interviews of each other.   As they listened to their radically different views about women’s right, transgender identification and climate change, their expressions changed. The person with whom they had been working side-by-side, stood on the opposing side of their beliefs.

The group was given the opportunity to either leave or to talk over a beer at the bar they had just built. Everyone made the decision to stay. Because the experiment had served to open their minds and their hearts, they made the choice to open a beer.  By building together, they destroyed differences.

The point Victoria made was not lost on any of us.  She simply reminded us that our work, bringing diverse people together for the purpose of understanding, education and friendship, matters.  When people come together, the connections and results are powerful, shattering stereotypes, eliminating prejudices, enabling understanding and creating connections.

Victoria thanked us for the recent World Youth and Student Travel Confederation (WYSTC) recognition.  While we are humbled by the tremendous honor of receiving the award for Best Work Experience Provider, we were reminded that the real reward is the impact that programs, like Ubuntu, can make to help the underprivileged.  And after hearing Victoria’s story about her family’s Thanksgiving tradition, we all understood that helping those in need is in her heritage and in her heart and the reason she started Alliance Abroad Group.

I think I speak for all my Alliance Abroad family; we are thankful to work for a company whose purpose is to make a difference in people’s lives and in the world.  All of us are thankful for the recognition affirming our effort to bring global citizens together to work side by side and hand in hand is doing just that.

Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours.