Meet Amy Komorowski

Board Member Highlight

Via International is pleased to welcome our newest member of the Board of Directors, Amy Komorowski! 

Amy is a local elementary school teacher, with a passion for education and travel.  She is excited to join the Via Board and brings a wealth of knowledge regarding global education and the benefits of solidarity travel for both the traveler and the community visited. 

What is your connection to Via were you first introduced to the organization?

I have been connected with Via International for 6 years. I completed a summer internship while in graduate school and fell in love with the organization! At the time, I was studying at the Pamplin School of Business at Virginia Tech focusing on volunteer tourism and was able to put my education to work at Via within Global Education. Through my research and experience, I had seen many volunteer tourism programs that sounded great, but in reality were only beneficial to the volunteer and often unfavorable to the local communities. What I found was that because Via values community wisdom, the organization is able to host “volunteers” in a mutually beneficial relationship for both the hosting communities and the volunteers themselves. 

What is it about Via International that inspires you?

I love Via’s abolitionist teaching perspective. To be honest, I did not know the terminology for this until recently when I started questioning what makes Via’s programming different from other similar organizations? Rather than the traditional cultural immersion or social justice practices explored through educational travel, Via really cultivates a community of disrupting and replacing oppressive systems. Via’s programming emphasises self-reliance and values community wisdom. This pushes our trip participants to places of change within themselves and leads them to activism in their own communities. 

How do your passions align with the mission of the organization?

Two of my favorite things are education and travel; therefore, Via is a perfect match! I was lucky enough to spend a couple of years travelling and living throughout South America, which eventually led me to graduate school at Virginia Tech. In Peru, I worked with many volunteer tourists and volunteer tourism companies and got a first hand look at how many of these for-profit businesses operate. When I came back from South America, I was enraged. My parents humored me and listened to my rants about what was happening until one day I think my dad had had enough. He looked at me and said, “Then why don’t you do something about it.” That day I began researching schools that critically evaluated volunteer tourism and their neoliberal practices. By the end of the day I had reached out to the graduate coordinator at Virginia Tech and emailed my future advisor. 

What do you hope to accomplish as a member of the Via board?

I am hoping to continue to help push Via to the next level in Global Education as well as increase work along the Tijuana/San Diego border region. I hope to help build strong educational travel opportunities for individuals who are looking to make a change in their own communities. By empowering individuals through Global Education, my hope is that these people will return to their communities as change makers. 

How do you describe Via to others…or is there an aspect of Via’s programming that you like to share with others or that you find others really respond to?

When I talk to other people who are unfamiliar with the organization, I start by telling them about my intern days bringing tourists to the microcredit groups in Tijuana. I feel like it is easiest for me to start where I started. I share about the families that I connected with, and the impact they had upon me. From my own experiences, I was able to connect with the small business owners and community promotoras through ballet folklorico, school renovation projects, and healthy cooking classes. These experiences added to my knowledge of small business development. I then like to talk about opportunities for people all over the world to connect with these families to learn from one another, especially during these times of Covid when many of their businesses are reliant on open marketplaces. 

You are joining the board at a time of real uncertainty in the world.  What challenges do you see for the organization in regards to COVID-19 and the organization’s ability to weather this storm?

One of Via International’s strengths as a non-profit organization is that it is not wholly dependent on grants and donations to fulfill the mission.  This is because Via has developed its fee-based Global Education program which sends thousands of students each year on immersive trips around the globe. The obvious challenge right now is that people (and more specifically, school groups) cannot travel. This has had a massive impact on the organization and the uncertainty makes planning for the future difficult. It will take time for people to feel safe travelling, and for universities to feel confident to book student travel. As a result, we are looking at innovative ways to bring a travel-based curriculum to the student.  You will be hearing more about that in the near future but I am confident that this current crisis will only make our curriculum stronger and more accessible.

What is one positive thing that you have been able to focus on or that you have discovered as a result of this pandemic?

I am grateful for the additional time I have been able to spend with my immediate family.  As a family, we try to get out for a long walk each morning. We also love going to the beach or the zoo during the week when crowds are a bit smaller. 

I am also still working (I’m an elementary school teacher) and love connecting with my students through our Zoom meetings each day. In addition to teaching, I am also in a teacher credentialing program focused on project based learning and equity, so I get to spend a couple days a week as a Zoom student!