An interview with Maddie Johnson, TTS Marketing & Recruiting Coordinator

How did your experience with The Traveling School shape your life path? 

Thirteen years later, my semester with TTS continues to shape milestone decisions and provides grounding perspective in the smallest of moments. The influence of the semester has evolved over time, but I’m continually amazed how those 15 weeks have stuck with me, how my teachers – Heather, Aunge, Shannon, and Leah – remain inspirational role models, and how lucky I am to still call classmates my friends. 

When I returned home, I had a newfound curiosity for the world around me, excitement to contribute, and optimism that I could have a positive impact. Every person had a story and every place had a history I was eager to learn from. TTS also gifted me a love of the outdoors and traveling off the beaten path.  

When it came time to apply and decide what to study in college, TTS inspired and empowered me to want to make a difference through my career. Coupled with the practical side of me, I went on to study business at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, which I saw as a way to both get a job and engage on the various global issues we had witnessed: toxic chemicals affecting long term health of rose plantation workers, deforestation threatening the Amazon’s biodiversity, and rising temperatures melting glaciers and causing unpredictable weather patterns, to name a few. 

Following college, I spent a few years in management consulting in New York City and Dubai before joining the Exemplars in Global Health team at Gates Ventures in Seattle. We study why some (mostly lower and middle income) countries outperform their peers on health outcomes such as child stunting, child mortality, pandemic response, family planning, and more. I spend my days driving awareness and uptake of those findings by country governments, development partners, and donors around the world.   

What surprised you most about your semester with The Traveling School? 

How much can fit into a 60L pack!! Somehow, we managed to squeeze in all of our personal belongings and seven subjects’ worth of course materials, leaving just enough space to collect a few souvenirs along the way. And somehow, I managed to carry it!  

At the time, I craved more variety in clothes…especially from my very unfashionable basketball shorts. Now, I embrace the simplicity and try to keep that mentality both when traveling and at home. 

How did your TTS semester shape your understanding of community? 

Through our own caravan of a community, traveling from one place to the next and as a guest for a few hours or weeks in countless communities along the way, I came to appreciate how sharing experiences builds connection and how essential that connection is to being grounded, feeling supported, and having fun! 

To this day, I’m fascinated by how we find, create, and sustain community, and the power of community to transform health and wellbeing. If you’re also interested in better understanding the building blocks of community, check out Dr. Vivek Murthy’s, 19th Surgeon General of the U.S., book Together.  

What inspires you to give back to TTS? 

I’m eternally grateful for my semester with TTS, but what inspires me most is how TTS continues to inspire and empower women semester after semester. I hope all young women who are interested can have access to this opportunity and know a significant portion of donations enables just that, bringing together a diverse group of students regardless of financial position. Finally, navigating COVID-19 has been no small feat for any organization, and TTS has embodied the resiliency they teach to their students, pivoting to a US-based program and using each turn as a learning moment.  

What advice do you have for prospective TTS students? 

If you’re considering applying, stop considering and do it. At minimum, you’ll learn and be exposed to things otherwise impossible without spending 15 weeks with the world as your classroom. If you’ve already applied and are going, then get ready for the experience of a lifetime. It will be tiring, it will be hard, but it will be so rewarding. Say yes to trying new things, embrace the discomfort, know each experience is a chance to learn, and take time to reflect along the way.