by Rachel Branaman ’01
I casually waved my arm in a lazy motion, cocked my head, and implored through sheer willpower the approaching car to slow down. More often than not my wish was granted, and I negotiated a lift with strangers whose kindness was greater than the ride, as they allowed me a brief insight to their world as we traveled on a journey that took me further than my destination. These simple interactions, a free lift to the next town, a friendly conversation, an invitation to learn more about other cultures, are some of my fondest memories of my Peace Corps experience. My love for exploration started well before I hit Namibian soil in 2009 as a Peace Corps volunteer. As a teen, I studied abroad in far flung destinations across Europe and Australia and soaked up new cultures as others soak up the sun. I was fortunate to have parents and an educational system that encouraged study abroad opportunities and fostered opportunities to allow me to thrive outside my local community.
I continued to travel through Austin College’s Jan Term program as well as participation in Alternative Spring Break trips, widening my global perspective with trips to Quebec province in Canada; interior Mexico; and Asia where I visited Japan, South Korea, and China. My desire to work in international development emerged through my experiences as a student at Austin College while studying for a French degree. Professors and mentors, such as Bernice Melvin and Cynthia Manley, encouraged me to aim high and remain open-minded about where my degree could take me in life. I was convinced I would lead a life of international intrigue and jet-set around the world. Although my French is now rusty, my purpose, to empower others toward change, never faded.
I was fortunate to find a career path I loved following graduation. I accepted a position with a Dallas nonprofit and completed a master’s degree in nonprofit management, which ultimately led me to accept a position as a community development advisor for Namibia’s Ministry of Health and Social Services with the U.S. Peace Corps.
If my time in Namibia taught me anything, it is that together, as a community, we hold the power to create change. While I loved serving my small community of Otavi, Namibia, the truth is, you don’t have to cross the Atlantic to make a difference. When I returned to the U.S. after completing two years of service, I wanted to serve as a testament to the value of community development. I started my own business, Talem Consulting, the name coined from the Latin “talis” meaning distinguished or empowered, a sentiment I hope to instill in nonprofits through capacity building and resource development. Outside of my professional endeavors, I give back to my community through projects like Austin College’s GreenServe, as well as by serving on the board of directors for Journey of Hope Grief Support Center.
Some of the greatest lessons I have learned were taught by the most unlikely teachers. I credit my professors at Austin College for teaching me to think outside of the box, my close college friends with showing me that regardless of the path we take in life we all can make a difference, and the gracious drivers who pulled over and gave a hitchhiker a lift to the next Namibian town for expanding my worldview.
Each of these individuals showed me how to empower change in my personal life as well as in my professional and for that I am thankful.
Rachel Branaman lives in Dallas and continues to serve the community as annual fund director for Dallas Black Dance Theatre.
The opinions shared in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views or policy of Austin College, its administrators, or its Board of Trustees.