Ambassador Corps Fellow Profile: Nick Zelle

Want to watch an interview with 2015 AC Ambassador Corps participant Izzy Flemming? Click here!

We always enjoy chatting with Nick Zelle, one of our stellar Ambassador Corps Students from our summer 2015 pilot cohort. Now back at Middlebury College in Vermont, Nick reflects on his experience in Peru:NickZelle1.1

 Name:  Nicholas Andruss Zelle

Citizenship: US

Current title: Student at Middlebury College

Dream occupation or job title:  I am interested in the intersection of arts and social change, especially given my background as a professional circus artist. My ideal job would include writing and storytelling, strategic planning and social outreach.

Why did you decide to join the Ambassador Corps (AC) program?

I applied to the Ambassador Corps (AC) program because I wanted an immersive work experience abroad. I was also very interested in learning more about the social entrepreneurship field. Furthermore, I was excited about being put in a foreign situation, with a unique set of challenges – both in sense of those that belong to the local community and in the ways that an NGO engages with those challenges in a responsible way. I knew that the AC program offered a unique opportunity to do meaningful work with an NGO.

What were you hoping to get out the experience?

In part, I was hoping to gain certain practical skills and know-how in working with an NGO. Mostly I wanted to understand the social entrepreneurship field better and see what parts of it most resonate with me so as to concretely decide what I want to do in the future.

What was a typical day like during your AC internship?

A typical day was spent at the Andean Alliance for Sustainable Development (AASD) office, working in collaboration with Evelin and Adam to accomplish the goals we had set for ourselves that week for our overall project. For example, one week we focused on researching experiential learning programs both at Middlebury and other institutions in order to better understand how a potential student research program could best meet the needs of students and the host organization. We used this perspective later when we designed and refined or original experiential learning programs with the AASD for Middlebury students. At the end of the day, we’d walk back down to our homestay, usually stopping at the Churro vender on the way, and we would spend the rest of the evening with our host family.

 Were there any surprises or unforeseen benefits that emerged?

I was pleasantly surprised by the culture of the organization which was very critical of sustainability and community development practices. Before working with AASD, I was unsure of how to think about the ethics of NGO intervention in community issues and how it could engender positive social change without a patriarchal approach to working with the community. After my experience, I’m so happy to say that I have seen first hand how NGO intervention can be navigated responsibly and to have been surrounded by people who think so deeply about the meaning of their work.

What were some of your biggest obstacles during the experience – professional or personal?

There were many micro-challenges as we tried to figure out the best way to move forward with our project. It was sometimes necessary to just trust the process and know that the uncertainty of what we were doing would eventually give way to really great results.

Describe someone you met during the program that had a major impact on your experience.

Spending time with my host family was one of the most important aspects of my experience in Peru. There was a considerable language barrier (I had spent three weeks teaching myself Spanish before arriving, and among the handful of words they knew in English were such important ones as “I am,” “fork” and “Fakir” , which made little sense when strung together). Despite our difficulties communicating verbally, we spent many evenings over dinner or games laughing and talking about Peru, their work and lives and more. We even had the chance to follow them one day to the school where they teach. After weeks of hearing them talk about their students and the challenges with education in the region, it was incredible to see them in their element.

How would you describe AC to a stranger?

AC is a highly individualized experiential learning program that allows students to immerse themselves in meaningful work with an organization in the social entrepreneurship field abroad.

Did AC change or pivot your path? If so, how?NickZelle2

The experience certainly broadened my perspective and made me think more critically about the social entrepreneurship field and the type of work I’m considering. I already intended to work in the social impact sector before embarking on AC, and this summer has confirmed that decision.

Describe the AC experience in 5 words.

Immersive, individualized, formative, challenging, unique

What are some of the biggest challenges in growing the impact-driven economy?

We can’t move along a community development project at a pace faster than that at which the community functions. This is to say that sustainable social change cannot be top-down directed, so a successful impact-driven economy would need to be patient. Another challenge is that people (including social entrepreneurs) often identify the weaknesses of a given community, rather than focusing on and harnessing its strengths; as a result, there is this attitude that outside aid can be “the solution”. While it’s well intended, I think this mentality can be detrimental. Capitalism works in opposition to an idyllic, community-accountable economy, so we would need to abandon greed and a self-satisfying mentality that we are able to fix (others’) problems quickly.

What’s next for you?

I feel very motivated to tie this experience into my studies and life at Middlebury in some way. I think it will greatly dictate the way I mentally approach all future academic and professional endeavors, especially relating to development work or work oriented around community wellbeing.

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Ambassador Corps Fellow Feature: Grecia De La O Abarca

Grecia1FinalI learned to confront my fears and to ask all the difficult, yet necessary questions.”

Recently returned Ambassador Corps Fellow Grecia De La O Abarca checked in to tell us all about her summer experience in Chile. Below she shares insight from her fellowship and updates us about the knowledge and skills she is bringing back with her:

Full Name:  Grecia Paola De La O Abarca      Citizenship: Mexican
Middlebury College 2017   Center for Social Entrepreneurship Fellow  UWC – USA’13

Dream Occupation or Job Title:
Executive Director at a socially responsible organization/company in Mexico or Latin America.

Why did you decide to join the Ambassador Corps (AC) program? What were you hoping to get out of the experience?

The Ambassador Corps program initially caught my attention because of its “authenticity”. I didn’t want to have a traditional internship experience and I knew that being part of the AC Program would give me a broader set of skills and experiences that would transcend one summer. Indeed, I left Chile with a large community of correspondences and colleagues who have taught me much more than I could have learned on my own. I really liked the global leadership focus that this program pursues; in particular its emphasis on working closely with the host organizations while simultaneously immersing into the local culture.

How would you describe your AC experience to a stranger?

For 10 weeks over the summer, I worked with the UN Global Compact in Chile. Our mission was to design a Social Responsibility course that will be taught as part of the general educational program for students at the Chilean university, Andres Bello. I was working with amazing and very distinguished people,  starting with Ms. Margarita Ducci, Executive Director of Global Compact Chile; Maria Isabel Muñoz, graduate professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Valparaiso; and Mabel Tatiana Cortes, professor and designer of the online course platform. I was amazed at how fast and how much I could learn in one day. Each day I learned something new. It wasn’t easy; it was an accelerated and challenging job. The difference between the AC experience and another undergraduate internship is that I wasn’t just an intern for the organization, I was a part of the Global Compact team and I had important responsibilities. At first I was apprehensive and unsure of whether or not I could handle the responsibility but my goal was to cope as best as possible and learn as much as I could from the experience….and I’m happy to report that in the end, that is just what I did.

What was a typical day like during your AC fellowship? 

My days at the office were busy and challenging. Each day was different in terms of activities; some days I had to attend events with my boss and other days I would focus on research in the library. I had weekly meetings with my colleagues where we discussed the material and resources we wanted to include in the program. There were some periods where I worked only with professors for a full day. On these days, our meetings were quite intense, starting at 10am and finishing at 6pm. We reached a point where we knew each other well enough that we could feel when it was time to break until the following day. Once home and after family dinner, I would sometimes explore the city, but usually opted to catch up on much-needed rest.

Were there any surprises or unforeseen benefits that emerged? What were some of your biggest obstacles during the experience – professional or personal?GreciaAction1Final

The biggest surprise was difficulty with the language. Although Spanish is my native language, it still found it very difficult to understand the Chilean accent and some local words. This difficulty was completely unexpected and I hadn’t prepared for the weeks that it took to adjust. My host family and co-workers were very understanding and helped me as much as they could. Oftentimes I had to translate the Chilean expressions to “standard Spanish” in order to better understand the connotation. My host family went as far as to provide Chilean Spanish lessons every night. Not only did I learn more about Chile’s history and culture, but it also allowed me to reconnect with my host family daily and share news from that day. With such inclusion and sensitivity to my needs, my hosts truly made me feel like part of the family.

At work I was basically immersed into a new world. I was learning a lot about Social responsibility: starting at the individual level, passing through its impact in organizations and culminating with State intervention and the International Organizations that promote it. My focus was mainly on the Sustainable Development Goals, Ethics, Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Policy. I gained a deeper understanding of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) even before they have been approved internationally. I was pleasantly surprised that my boss took me to important and transcendental meetings. Two events stand out in particular: one where the Minister of Chancellery spoke about the priorities for Chile in terms of the SDG; and another with a panel discussion about the Papal encyclical that criticizes human effects on the planet and how we are working to address it. I felt privileged to have the opportunity to attend such events not only for my internship purposes but also as an enriching learning experience.

Describe someone you met during the program that had a major impact on your experience.

One of the professors in my team who later became one of my mentors was Professor María Isabel Muñoz. She was undoubtedly the person who had the biggest impact on my experience. I met her the first day I got to Global Compact and to be honest, I was really intimidated by her. I felt inferior to her and nervous to think we were expected to work together for the following 10 weeks. As I asked myself how I would get through, the answer came to me: ask for help. I learned to confront my fears and to ask all the difficult, yet necessary questions. To my relief, Professor Muñoz showed humility and enthusiasm to work with me from the very first day. She answered every questions with a big smile on her face. She told me once “information has been given to us with the purpose to be shared. You cannot keep information for yourself that would make you feel superior to others. Why would only you have it then?” This sticks with me to this day and I am proud to call her my mentor.

Describe the AC experience in 5 words. GreciaShot1Final

  1. Eye-opening
  2. Challenging
  3. Encouraging
  4. Realistic
  5. Rewarding

What’s next for you?

I’m going back to Middlebury College for my last 2 years of undergraduate studies. This experience has impacted my vision of what I want to do with in my life, especially why, where and for whom I want to work in the future. This was my first time in South America. From this summer, I kept two distinct memories with me: one of the warm people, and the other of the current issues that still need attention. I know without a doubt now that I want to continue contributing to Latin America in any way possible. I encourage others to focus their skills to help Latin American countries as well. There is still much to be done, and it is never too late to start.  No contribution is too small.

Read more about Grecia:  Middlebury Center for Social Entrepreneurship Fellow Profile

Learn more about her host organization: Global Compact Chile (Red Pacto Global Chile)

Are you the next Ambassador Corps Fellow? Inquire about next year’s Ambassador Corps Program and join the new cohort! Want to partner with Ambassador Corps and source talent for a fellowship in your impact company? Send a partner inquiry to

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