By Sarah Burgess
I’ve always heard that life comes full circle, but perhaps never fully appreciated that saying until now.
In 1975, I went to Oaxaca as part of the Neighbors Abroad exchange program. That summer experience (six weeks in Oaxaca, four more weeks with our Oaxaca siblings here) changed my perspective on life, my cultural awareness, and made me a Spanish speaker. I made lifelong friends. I danced the Guelaguezta dances I learned in Oaxaca in the May Fete Parade and at Neighbors Abroad functions. The next year I got my first summer job working for Adventure Travel Service in Palo Alto where one of the owners was the President of Neighbors Abroad at the time. I made travel reservations for the incoming exchange students, and chaperoned the Oaxacan kids going to Disneyland and back home. Of course, life catches up. I graduated from college and law school, my Oaxacan family and I lost touch, I had a family of my own, I used Spanish in my legal practice and hoped it wasn’t getting too rusty.
Fast forward to 2018, when I chatted with Bob Wenzlau, who I knew from our kids' school and sports. Turns out, he was now President of Neighbors Abroad, which I knew was being reinvigorated. Finding out about my Oaxacan connection, he asked if I’d help with Oaxaca. In saying yes, I thought I’d be giving back.
Turns out Neighbors Abroad is the gift that keeps on giving. I have been so enriched, once again, by my involvement. What a wonderful, hard working group of people to work with and make friends with--all devoted to international relationships.
My high school Oaxaca connections have continued to grow, as well. One of the students I had chaperoned, Flor Sanchez, is a principal in our partner, Vidas y Suenos, and succeeded me as VP of Oaxaca. When I visited Oaxaca in April 2022, a surprise awaited me: my Oaxacan mother, with whom I had lost touch, was waiting to see me at the Albergue Josefina, a home for vulnerable children whose families cannot care for them. Neighbors Abroad has supported the Albergue for many years.
I take over as President from Bob Wenzlau, who has done so much for Neighbors Abroad - brought it from an organization which was searching for present day relevance to the place we are today. I cannot thank him enough for all the effort he has put in--and the results are clear. In the last week, I have met with representatives from Ukraine, China, and Sweden, all trying to accomplish the same mission: to create relationships which transcend politics and national constricts and see each other as people, living in the same world.
Join us. We are working together to form friendships, promote a sustainable future, make connections on a personal as well as business level, and create education and cultural opportunities. Everyone is welcome.
ABOUT NEIGHBORS ABROAD
Neighbors Abroad fosters Palo Alto's domestic and international engagement through friendship, education, commerce, and sustainability.
We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
355 Alma Street
Palo Alto, CA 94301
Phone: (650) 503-3343