BY BRITANI BEASLEY
St. Louis Native and McKendree University senior, Meghan Birdsong is a Speech Communication major, with a Public Relations emphasis, and has a minor in Spanish. When asked how many years she has been studying foreign language and which ones she has studied, she said, “My elementary school had us start taking French kindergarten through 6th grade, so seven years, but all I could remember was “Je ne sais pas” (I do not know) and “Parlez-vous anglais?” (Do you speak English?) which only helped me in Montreal. They also had us take Latin in 5th and 6th grade, but I barely remember the basics of it. In middle school I started taking Spanish until 10th grade. I absolutely hated Spanish in high school and learned nothing. It was definitely my least favorite class. I started taking Spanish again at McKendree and I found that I really liked it. I’ve now taken classes for 6 semesters plus a summer studying abroad in Buenos Aires. This semester I also started French again.”
She has spent her life giving back to underprivileged communities saying, “Volunteering is a huge part of my life. I have been doing it in St. Louis since I was old enough to hold a paintbrush.” Birdsongs parents did tons of volunteering within the St. Louis community, as well as around the country and some international trips, too. She said that she really started volunteering without her parents in middle school. In high school, she helped with planning volunteer trips all over the US for high school students in Missouri. She also began doing major volunteering in 2011, between her freshman and sophomore years, when she went to Uganda for 3 months.
Volunteering and service work has taken her around the country and even the world. Her list continues to grow with stops in New York City, Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, Mississippi (to help with Katrina damage), Costa Rica, Lira in Uganda and Buenos Aires. Within these communities, Birdsong, has worn many hats and completed many jobs including being a summer camp counselor, repairing houses and working at a woman’s shelter. On the international level, she has completed tasks including starting a support group for individuals with HIV/Aids, teaching first aid to teachers and students at a secondary school, treating students and kids who lived in the village by the school, being a teacher’s aide, and working in a foster home.
I asked Birdsong what she felt most attracted to in Argentinian culture and why, she answered, “I love how laid back it is in Argentina! It was very social culture where a lot of emphasis was on spending quality time with friends and family. Dinner was late at 9pm and a very social time. Dinners would last for about 2 hours with people talking, telling stories and such. Also time was a little different. For example, my classes started at 9 but the professors and most of the students wouldn’t show up until 9:30 and classes would be around then. Also, to most of the people I met 9am was really early. Most businesses wouldn’t open until around 11am. I am not a morning person so this was just my pace.”
When asked what her favorite part of volunteering is, Birdsong said, “I learn so much while volunteering. Whether it’s a different language, a new game, or song, wherever I am I learn something new every day. In Argentina two of the older girls at the school took it on themselves to teach me field hockey and in Uganda a 10 year old boy named Emmanuel would write words in Loa (the local tribal language) in my notebook then quiz me the next time I saw him. I have found that no matter where you are or what cultural or language barriers there are people are always eager to teach or show you something from their culture and lives.”
Birdsong’s next adventure in volunteering is to apply to the Peace Corps. When asked about why she wanted to apply, she said, “I always have said I want to travel for a living. Because of my volunteer work and interest in full time travel, the Peace Corps seemed like a good place for me. The process has been long and at times frustrating so I hope it all ends with an invitation to serve. There are 5 steps in the process to get into the Peace Corps and I’m in step 4 and I started this process in August. If it doesn’t work out I’m planning on getting certified in TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) and working abroad.” As far as the overall experience goes, Birdsong is unsure at what she hopes to accomplish over all. Even though she is nominated in the health field, she does not know what kind of work she will be doing. She adds, “I really hope to make good connections and help in whatever community they send me to.”
To read more about Meghan’s journey through volunteering, view photos of the places she has been and keep track of where she goes through her travel stories, you can view her blog at meghanintl.com