(The following article appeared in the September 5, 2003 issue of The St. Albans Messenger - Original photo below by Greg Bessette was scanned from The St. Albans Messenger and in no way reflects the quality of Greg's work - Sara L. Cummings - The Messenger Correspondent lives here in Fairfax - The Messenger has given me permission to use their articles, provided proper credit is given - Henry A. Raymond)
The education of Courtney Gabaree
Fairfax teen-ager looks, lives outside of small town U.S.A.
Courtney Gabaree points to Panama, her home for six months, on a map at BFA-Fairfax.
"There is so much more to life than most people know..." - Courtney Gabaree.
By SARA L. CUMMINGS (Messenger Correspondent)
FAIRFAX -- Imagine desiring a powerful, life-altering experience so profoundly that one spends seven months raising $8,000 in order to spend six months in a country thousands of miles from home and where the language is entirely foreign.
Imagine that the revenue generated for such an endeavor was almost exclusively from bake sales, bottle drives, selling candy bars, making presentations and writing essays.
Now imagine accomplishing such a feat at the ripe old age of 15.
Courtney Gabaree, now 16 and a student at Bellows Free Academy-Fairfax, managed just that.
After stumbling across a newspaper advertisement describing foreign exchange programs, Gabaree launched an ambitious campaign to raise the necessary funds to land her in Panama from August of 2002 until February of 2003.
"It was a lot of work," Gabaree said of her accomplishment. "I usually spent about an hour a night on homework and about three hours on fundraising. It seemed like it took forever but I earned it and so I really appreciated it much more when I finally got there."
Upon arrival in Panama, she found herself faced with a variety of difficult challenges.
"In the first house where I stayed, it was not a good situation," Gabaree said. "A short time later, I was placed with a different family, but that was difficult, too. There were times when things got really, really tough and I wanted to go back home, but I just kept telling myself, 'No, you've worked too hard to get here to turn back now.' I did the best that I could and eventually everything began to really work out."
Indeed, because during the third month of her exchange, Gabaree was again placed in a new Panamanian household, this time with family members who matched her enthusiasm and zeal and who were as excited to introduce her to new experiences as she was to have them.
"They were incredible," Gabaree said. "It was amazing. They took me with them everywhere they went, showed me Panama City, and I ate all different sorts of foods. It was really just wonderful.
"It was with them that I saw villages where people bathed with rainwater collected in coconuts and where they caught everything they ate. It was with them, too, that my Spanish fluency really improved as well."
As well as maintaining frequent contact with her Panamanian host family, Gabaree also remains in touch with other students from around the United States and the world with whom she became friends while participating in the exchange.
"As a graduation present to myself, I plan to spend two to three months doing the Euro trail with a friend I met during that whole experience," she said.
The insight Gabaree has gained through her exchange program in Panama and other such activities, such as volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House and Camp Daybreak, has convinced her that she would like to study International Development and Social Work while in college.
"All of those experiences were definitely intense but were also so rewarding," she said. "They truly made me realize that there is so much more to life than most people know, and there is no point in wasting it on pursuits that are non-productive."
Gabaree is once again preparing to leave the familiarity of small town Vermont to embark upon another exchange next year, this time to Ghana to spend seven months working in an orphanage.
It is all part of her grand plan to increase her awareness of ways in which she can make a positive impact in the lives of others.
"I have become more aware of myself and I have grown more tolerant of people's differences," she said. "The most rewarding thing I can think of it to make a real difference in someone's life. That is what I intend to do."
Henry A. Raymond
September 9, 2003