Dezarae Mustain is waiting for her flight to Spain with big-eyed excitement. Before her flight to New York the day before, she had never been on a plane. In fact, she had never even driven very far from her hometown in sparsely populated Wyoming.
Now she’s heading “clear across to the other side of the planet” to study Basque culture, meet an array of different people, and perhaps “become more accepting of others and how they live and stuff,” says Dezarae, who will be a junior next year at Rock River School just outside Laramie and is one of eight students in her class in a town with fewer than 300 residents.
Earlier this year, she and about 145 other soon-to-be high school juniors or seniors were accepted into the Student Diplomacy Corps, a two-year-old nonprofit group that helps give underrepresented students from rural or urban regions a chance to see the world, deepen their understanding of global issues, and get the kind of experiences college admissions committees love to see.
“I told them I was interested in the bigger questions, the ‘what’s the meaning of life’ sort of stuff,” says Dezarae, who lives with her mother, a single parent who works with people with disabilities in Laramie.
John Meislin, one of the three founding directors of the Student Diplomacy Corps, knows that talented students like Dezarae rarely get the chance to go abroad for the kind of education programs that wealthier, better-connected high school students do.
He’s worked in the sprawling industry of high school summer abroad programs for decades, and has worked firsthand with many of the excellent fee-for-service programs that provide students everything from adventure tours to educational opportunities in countries around the world.
“But it’s fundamentally wrong that student diplomacy is reserved for those who can afford to go abroad,” Mr. Meislin says. This year, his organization will send students to 10 countries on four continents, including China, Morocco, and Uruguay. Each student receives a scholarship covering 80 to 85 percent of the cost.