In her first post on ESG, Janel shares her experience growing up in a working-class suburb of Philadelphia and the opportunity she had that wasn't typical of many of her school peers: the chance to study, live, and work overseas as an undergraduate and graduate student. In upcoming posts, she'll also be sharing her advice for empowering solo female travelers: “Believe it or not, I still find that people see a solo female traveler of color as a novelty. But it’s helped me grow a lot as a person.” Follow Janel's adventures on Instagram and stay tuned for upcoming posts! 

Seven years ago, I was a high school student getting ready to graduate and head off to college. As a gift, my Spanish teacher gave the book "Oh, The Places You’ll Go!" by Dr. Seuss to all of us. The tone of the book was so aspirational. It was truly a funny and warm-hearted send-off considering that my life would change from that time forward.  

Sometimes I think back to when I was that 18-year-old teenage girl who had a lot of hopes and dreams about what the future would be..

In the yearbook featuring my senior class, my future goals included: graduating with a college degree in the social sciences, getting a Master’s degree of some sort, working with young people, and traveling.

In some ways, I was limited by my environment. I was born and raised in a small suburb outside of the Philadelphia where many people were poor or working class. I have seen firsthand how money and resources – or the lack of it – can impact people's lives in such different ways. Among my peers, I was one of the few to go to college, move out of our hometown, and have a host of experiences that have shaped me for the better.
So, I feel the duty to give back in some way and never forget where I came from and what I’ve learned along the way.

Always a Philly girl at heart, but London holds a special place: my study abroad "home" where I returned to earn my Master's degree at LSE.

If you told me in high school that I’d make my dreams come true to an extent I would have looked at you with an equal sense of shock and awe. In high school, I was a wallflower in every sense of the term. I spent eight years in a Catholic school and went to a public high school where the rules and norms were totally different. This made me feel like a fish-out-of-water more times than not. My social skills were a bit off as a result, but I did love reading. I was always carrying a pile of books with me on topics like international relations, social justice, or fiction for pure fun. Little did I realize that who I was becoming at that time would benefit me in the future.

I was able to get a scholarship to attend a local liberal arts college where I learned so much and expanded my horizons with the help of my school, family, and close friends. In 2014, I took the leap and studied abroad in London, UK as a senior. That experience totally changed my life. I got to travel to about 10 countries, live in one of the coolest cities in the world, and meet really fascinating people from all walks of life. Since then, the past few years have been a whirlwind of adventure, including major highs and lows in my own life and the current events shaping our world.

I went back overseas after graduating from college and obtained a M.Sc. in Sociology from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Today, I work as a Digital Communications Manager for a non-profit organization in D.C. The number of countries I’ve visited so far is almost 20, and I plan on seeing more. While I don’t get to travel as much stateside, being in D.C. has allowed me the opportunity to participate in a lot of cool events – and interact with equally cool people from all over the world.

My first post: this blog will give you a front-row view into my world as a young communications professional by day, and a DC city socialite by night. Sit back, relax, and enjoy. Thanks for reading!