By Jon Ladd
Bellevue Reporter Intern
When Bellevue native Madeline Lisaius mentions the people she has lived with during her stays in Ecuador, she does not refer to them as hosts or friends, but as her second family. And Ecuador, a second home.
Lisaius recently arrived at Puyo, a city in the Amazonian highlands, marking her third trip to Ecuador in three years. While she now goes backed with grants for research and a heart for the people of Ecuador, her first trip to the country was decided by little more than a drive to learn Spanish.
“Spanish had been the hardest subject for me in school, so I decided to try my best to finally gain competency, or even a degree of mastery, lest I ‘waste’ a year that could be spent doing formal education,” she said.
Lisaius was accepted to Global Citizen Year towards the end of her senior year while at Interlake High School. Global Citizen Year is a nonprofit organization whose mission is the esteeming of the gap year between high school and college and making it a more common experience. They send promising high school graduates around the world to live and work with families and communities before returning to pursue a degree.
Though Lisaius had already been considering taking a gap year at the time of graduation, she did not have much time to decide once she had been chosen by Global Citizen Year.
“My decision to take a gap year was quite last minute. It was June 7 of my senior year of high school that I was accepted to Global Citizen Year, just two weeks before I graduated,” Lisaius said. “At the time, I knew that taking a gap year was the best decision for me because the other option, going to college, was not.”
She said she chose not to go to college right away because she knew it wasn’t the next step for her at the time.
Now, Lisaius is studying earth systems at Stanford University’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences. While she certainly had interest in that field before her first gap year, it was her experiences in Ecuador that really inspired her choice of field.
“The simple act of using a latrine every day during my gap year made me think about the vast amount of waste that a single family produces, how that waste can be transformed into viable earth with time, and also how sanitation really matters,” she said. “Additionally, living next to a covered landfill, I came to understand on a personal level that trash ends up in someone’s back yard even if it disappears from my curb, and that someone will live with the consequences of that trash.
“Studying environmental science became obvious at that point, especially as my value system for justice, striving for higher quality of life for all, and for healthy places to live [was] developed.”
On this specific trip, Lisaius’ research is funded by three different grants: two of them from Stanford University, and one is the National Geographic Young Explorers Grant. This grant, according to National Geographic, is to, “help cover field project costs for hard-working, passionate, creative individuals with great ideas.” Though Lisaius was a chosen recipient of the grant, it came as a surprise to her.
“I didn’t know that National Geographic had funds for people like me who are just that, early in their career, and it was at the suggestion of a great mentor at Stanford, Bill Durham, that I considered applying for the grant,” Lisaius said.
Though happy to be back in Ecuador, Lisaius still plans on returning to finish her degree at Stanford. And with as bright of a future ahead as she has, she still claims it’s all thanks to that first gap year trip.
“I would say that my first trip built a value system that is integral to my person today,” Lisaius said. “That value system is something I work on actively, but I attribute its birth entirely to my gap year with Global Citizen Year, and to which I accredit my passion for environmental science.”
For more information on Global Citizen Year, visit www.globalcitizenyear.org.