“FSU has taught me that there are opportunities all around, you just have to be open to taking them.”
Senior Emilie Easton was eager to escape the cold winter mornings in her hometown of Temperance, Michigan. She went south in search of warmer weather and adventure at Florida State University — the result has been an extraordinary journey around the world that opened her mind to new opportunities and her heart to those in need.
When Easton began college, she wanted to get out of her comfort zone and experience new things. She enrolled in the university’s First Year Abroad program (FYA), which allows freshmen to pay in-state tuition if they spend their first year overseas.
Easton’s adventure began in Valencia, Spain, where she studied for eight months. She then completed her freshman year studying in London, England for three months.
“I always loved reading stories about other nations and cultures, so when I got to be a part of FSU’s First Year Abroad Program, I was head over heels,” said Easton, who is double majoring in criminology and international affairs. “The FYA program granted me the once in a lifetime opportunity to travel freely while discovering more about myself.”
When Easton returned to America for her first semester at FSU’s Tallahassee campus, she continued planning an undergraduate experience centered around exploring other cultures.
As a sophomore, Easton spent spring break on a mission trip to Chontala, Guatemala, helping build houses for local families — her first in-depth volunteer experience.
“As an FSU student, I have found myself constantly striving to help others and keep myself aware of the realities around me,” Easton said. “By raising the level of awareness for not only myself, but for others as well, I have found that I am able to begin positively affecting the lives of those around me.”
Easton continued her adventure through the Global Scholars Program, which helps students secure summer internships at nonprofit organizations in developing countries around the world. As a global scholar, she traveled to Cochabamba, Bolivia, where she taught English and volunteered at a local day care.
She also discovered a troubling fact of life in Bolivia: innocent children were being forced to grow up in prison because their parents were incarcerated.
Easton researched the topic and learned that many incarcerated persons in Bolivia have no choice but to bring their children with them to prison because their extended family members do not have the resources to support more children, and the country’s orphanages tend to be underfunded and overcrowded.
“Before I came to Bolivia, I thought that I knew a fair amount about the world,” Easton said. “This experience taught me there is always more to learn, and no matter how large and unsolvable an issue may seem, there is always something that can be done to help.”
She wrote a paper on the plight of these children and even discussed the topic over the phone with former U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, David Greenlee. In spring 2017, she was selected as the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice’s Humanitarian of the Year for her exceptional volunteer efforts in Latin America.
“During my time in Bolivia, I tried to make it clear to the kids that I was not that different than them and that they could do anything they set their mind to,” Easton said.
When she returned, Easton wanted to find a way to translate her experiences into humanitarian work she could do in Tallahassee. For eight months, she worked with local refugees, helping them learn English and successfully resettle in the United States. Then, along with some of her peers, she helped create the Migrant & Refugee Education Alliance, an organization which provides tutoring for refugees in the Leon County area.
“I have been able to help many refugees in getting acclimated to American society, and I have been able to help teach others to accept people fleeing persecution, as fellow human beings,” Easton said. “The process of teaching both refugees and established Americans to accept one another will hopefully lead to a more harmonious local community in the future.”
Latika Young, director of the Center for Undergraduate Research and Academic Engagement, said Easton possesses an impressive commitment to global engagement and social change, and she has demonstrated her commitment through research and volunteer work.
“Emilie serves as a campus role model and inspiration to other students, encouraging them to study abroad and connect more deeply within our local Tallahassee community,” Young said. “She accomplishes all of this with fierce compassion, calm strength and remarkable generosity. It has been such a pleasure working with her throughout her undergraduate career.”
Easton’s humanitarian work and community involvement are just part of her extensive resume. She has made the Dean’s List every semester of her college career and was inducted into the Phi Eta Sigma National Honor Society as a freshman. Since then she served on the leadership council of Phi Eta Sigma for several semesters. She also currently serves on the executive boards of both Amnesty International at FSU and the Migrant & Refugee Education Alliance.
“My advice to anyone seeking to get involved in meaningful volunteer work is to first find what it is you truly are passionate about, study up on the work you plan to do, and run with it. You will make so much more of a difference if you love the work you’re doing,” Easton said.
After graduation in spring 2018, she plans to attend law school and focus on human rights and immigration law. One of her long-term goals is advocating for the rights of those who are underrepresented and underserved.
“My experiences at FSU have been life-changing,” Easton said. “FSU has taught me that there are opportunities all around, you just have to be open to taking them. I have learned to say ‘yes’ to every opportunity that comes my way because you never know where it may lead.”
By Brooks Lockett, University Communications Intern
Produced by the offices of Information Technology Services, the Provost, Student Affairs, Undergraduate Studies and University Communications.