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The Girl Who Travels To Serve: Rachel Ertl

Mountaineers, meet Rachel Ertl! This is her senior year and she’s doing some amazing things with Appalachian State. She manages to balance being the philanthropy chair for her organization, the Lead Service Advisor for Appalachian and the Community Together (ACT), and an international peer leader for Alternative Service Experience (ASE)! When she finally gets some spare time, you could catch Rachel at Espresso News or the Moses Cone carriage paths on the parkway. Her latest obsession is reading Phenomenal by Leigh Henion, who is actually a professor here at App State. According to Rachel, EVERYONE should find time to pick this book up because it’s pretty amazing!




Major/Year: Health Promotion with a Sociology Minor/Senior

Hobbies: When off campus, anything outside at the parkway, hammocking, reading

Celeb Status: Being a Peer Leader for Alternative Service Experience (ASE)


I asked Rachel, what made her interested in going on an ASE in the first place. She told me about the vision she had of who she wanted to be and what she wanted to experience in college, and how she wasn’t sure how to go about that. “I heard about ASE fall of my sophomore year and something just clicked. Not only does ASE offer the chance to travel, all the programs offer education about social justice issues locally and globally as well as education about living on the poverty line, carbon neutrality, intentional service and life in general all while engulfing yourself in the culture of the community you are serving. I signed up for my first ASE winter of my sophomore year with the intentions of doing service and learning about global issues but I ended up getting so much more out of it than that!”


Alternative Service Experiences are pretty awesome, so we talked about some of her favorites so far. She said that her favorite ASE that she had  ever gone on would probably be her first International ASE to the Dominican Republic during her sophomore year. “We worked with an international organization called Service for Peace in a community called El Cidral. For 8 days, we participated in manual labor with community members to help start the building process of a classroom for the local school. I knew a little bit of Spanish but not enough to have full conversations with the local people, but the program was absolutely life changing even with the language barrier.” Rachel absolute lit up when she talked about how amazing it was to experience communicating with other humans without the foundation of sharing a language. “I know it might sound cliché, but love and happiness really don’t have any boundaries, which is a life lesson this program taught me that I’ll carry with me forever.” Rachel believes that she learned the “true meaning of service, love and simple living on this program”, and that she thinks think the other 14 participants that went on this program with her would agree! 


ASE’s are pretty life changing, and just from speaking with Rachel, I could see the huge impact it had on her! But I wanted to know what exactly does it mean to “lead” an ASE Well, as you Mountaineers probably know, the ASE program prides itself on being student lead. Rachel described for me how each program is planned, designed and executed by two students, Peer Leaders, with the help of one faculty member, a Learning Partner. Leading an ASE requires months and months of behind the scenes work, especially the international programs.  Rachel told me that she is leading “ASE to Nicaragua over spring break, March of 2015 and the prep work for that program started April of 2014!” Rachel and the other Peer Leaders must secure service, determine budgets, plan intentional and reflection based pre-program classes for their participants, market their program to students, and take a bi-weekly two hour class to prepare them for the program, etc. Rachel says that leading an ASE is a lot of work but is so rewarding. “You become very passionate about the program as well as the social issues the program exposes to you and is a great way to grow as a leader, person and citizen.”



ASE’s take students to many different areas, so I questioned Rachel on her dream trip. Where it would be and what she wanted to do while there. Coincidence or not, her dream program is actually the flying domestic program that she will be leading to San Francisco in December 2015 working with HIV/AIDS outreach! “I am so excited that I was picked to be a peer leader for the program; I’ve had my eye on this program since it developed two years ago.” So, what exactly makes this her dream ASE? Well for starters, it connects what she want to do as a future public health professional with her obvious passion for alternative service. “This is such a unique program in terms of the social issues that the program looks at educating our students about and I’m very excited to have a hand in planning what this program will look like.”


It’s obvious to me that Rachel got basically everything she could have wanted or dreamed about during her college experience, so I asked her for some words of wisdom to other Appalachian students. “My advice to undergrads at App state would be to push yourself to try and experience as much as you can while you’re in college. Engulf yourself in the opportunities this university and the Boone community offer you, because there is so much out there to learn and see. Getting involved heavily on campus has made every single year memorable for different reasons; don’t let your college memories be Netflix, that’s so boring!”


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