Thato Khasuli has become a symbol of hope and inspiration to literally thousands. Since we first published his story about his journey from South Africa to the U.S., it has spread around the internet, touching people all over the globe.
Thato has put new energy and passion into our work as cultural exchange sponsors and has fueled our commitment to do more on behalf of global youths with similar dreams. Thato reminds us why Alliance Abroad was created in the first place. We were founded on the belief that access to education and incredible experiences should be available to anyone, anywhere.
In the whirlwind love affair with Thato, we took a step back to reflect how all this came to be. James Bell, our beloved Scottish president and leader, cooked up the idea over a beer with an industry buddy. They wanted to find a way to get people who volunteered for the annual World Youth Travel and Student Conference (WYSTC) fired up and motivated. James decided an incentive would work, and since the passion for many of the South African volunteers was exposure to the industry, education and travel, he came up with the idea of a paid internship in the U.S.
Through his extensive network of industry associates, The Mount Washington Hotel in New Hampshire enthusiastically agreed to be a host employer and Emirate Airlines, a big WYSTC supporter and sponsor, was pleased to donate the air travel. Now the hard part…who would be the lucky winner?
Thato said that the moment he heard about the internship, he was determined to win (although he respectfully acknowledged his fellow volunteers as equally worthy). When asked what it was about Thato that made him the winner, James smiles pensively. “Thato had this air of confidence and determination, but was also amazingly humble,” he reflects. “I had this strong feeling that if Thato won, something big would happen for him; something life-changing.” James thought his destiny would be changed. We think maybe it has.
Thato came to visit us at our Austin headquarters and thanked us. He reminded us of the importance of what we do -even the sometimes laborious work of pushing paper and processing visas. He told our team how much the experience has changed his life and that of his family and friends. He acknowledged the teams that enrolled him and prepared his paperwork, the account managers who assisted with his training plan, the compliance team who issued his DS forms and the support team and outreach coordinator who ensured he was prepared for his journey and internship opportunity. We were touched as he shared how much the opportunity has meant to him. There were very few dry eyes when he told us about how he was able to send financial support back home to his mother and younger sister.
All of us at Alliance Abroad are thrilled about Thato’s experience and that his story resulted in winning the “Extraordinary Experience” award! But the truth is, it’s not about awards for us; it’s about the reward we get when we see our work making a difference in the lives of others. We’re grateful to Thato for that reminder.
Please stay with our Thato story; we think there are many more chapters yet to be written.