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“How do you explain to a Karen kid what Halloween is?  What a pumpkin is?  Why we carve it and put fire in it and then ask people for candy?”

The townhouse she shared with 16 other students overlooking Capitol Hill during her Junior year at the acclaimed School of Ethics and Global Leadership (SEGL) in Washington, DC put Alex a long way away from home.  A long way away from mom, dad, and little brother Greyden (10).  A long way away from friends at her home school of Cary Academy.  But while she was meeting with political advisers, writing policy documents, networking in Dupont Circle (oh, and still managing a full, traditional high school course load) her thoughts returned to the practical.  International policy reforms were one thing – but what could she do to help the Karen refugee kids she knew at home?

Alex’s love for the Karen Refugees started on Valentines day.

She watched a classroom where her mom works as a reading specialist, fill up with the giddy energy of elementary school kids – each child was excitedly pulling out their valentines for the class and fluttering around the room handing them out.  Except for a small group of very confused new students.  From all the way across the world in Burma, they had never heard of Valentines day – of Hannah Montana valentines or conversation hearts.  Alex watched as a teacher’s aid helped the new students cut out paper hearts in the back of the room and she tried to imagine what it must feel like to be a new student, in a new culture so far from home.  Valentines day, Halloween, 4th of July, Mother’s Day . . . all strange new holidays and traditions.

She could sense their disorientation – and could tell it was something she could help with.  That day Alex started thinking of fun ways to teach her new friends little things that would make them feel more at ease.

A long way from home at SEGL Alex focused her energy on a social venture project for the Karen refugees who themselves were feeling a long way from home.  Now twice a month in addition to managing a challenging course load at Cary Academy, working as editor-in-chief of the yearbook, and serving as Captain of the swim team, Alex organizes cultural outings for her new friends.  They’ve had picnics, picked strawberries, and held their own swimming lessons.  They’ve made Mother’s day cards, dyed Easter eggs and visited the museum.  And yes, this year, they even made their own homemade Valentines.

Alex is off to Georgetown University next year where she is interested in studying Politics and Government with possible minors in Spanish or Latin American History and Culture.  With all that Alex has already contributed to her community at home, the only real question left is “what is next?!”