I showed up to college as a suburban homeschooler ready for her new life, finally free of over-present parents. Kate was from rural NY, a world full of pickup trucks and so much country music. We met at Highlander, Houghton’s freshman wilderness adventure program, and although we didn’t become good friends then, there is a certain shared bond felt by all Highlanders. A feeling of having survived- despite traversing high ropes course obstacles arms shaking in fear, despite hiking miles and backpack straps digging into your hips, despite drinking stagnant lake water swimming with leaches, and despite not knowing anyone on day 1, you suddenly have a group of best friends for life.
Besides, it turned out she also liked hip hop and RnB, so we both were trying on a culture not quite our own.
Although over the course of my first year at school, I had built a wide-ranging friend group (again, mostly thanks to Highlander), I didn’t feel like I had any one close friend. In a particularly lonely moment as a brief, half thought, I prayed and asked God to send me a best friend. Yes, it sounds cheesy, but it’s true. And then God did answer that quick, almost thoughtless prayer through my lifelong friendship with Kate McGough.
By the end of freshman year, we still weren’t very close, but we agreed to room together that following sophomore year in a shared triple in a corner room of East Hall – one of those with the broken heating thermostat, making it so sweaty hot we kept the windows open all winter, freezing out the girls upstairs. I hung rope lights from the ceiling tiles and we hung out for hours, in the sort way you only can in college.
Somewhere along the way over the next three years, we became the type of best friends you know will last a lifetime. We shared clothes, we shared textbooks, we shared a love for sneaking out to go dancing, we shared our secret crushes. We became those sorts of roommates who are absolutely, ridiculously inseparable. Since we were both psych majors, we started taking all our classes together and it got to the point that other people would switch seats so we could sit next to each other (a big thank you and sorry to everyone who indulged us).
A side note about our friendship. I loved pranks. So, I was constantly roping her into different, ridiculous plans as my wingwoman. One day I thought I had the perfect prank: While she was at class, I stole all Kate’s underwear, packed it up in a box, and intercampus mailed it to her – my plan was that she would get that magical red ticket meaning you have a care package from home full of goodies, so would excitedly open the box in front of all our friends and waaaha! pranked!
However… reusing a box with my own last name written in huge letters on the side was not so clever, and Kate quickly realized that something suspicious was up with this unexpected care package. The plan failed- then backfired. I was shocked then when instead of my glorious triumph, I came back to our room from classes that day to find her entire study group sitting underneath MY dangling underwear – which Kate had artfully strung up from the ceiling tiles in sweet retribution. Note to self, it’s foolishly dangerous to prank your own roommate.
Even though neither of us had ever been outside the country before, Houghton cultivated in us a passion for social justice, a love for international travel, and a desire to blend the two in a career pursuing international development. Kate’s love of far-off lands began with a semester abroad with Dr. Ericson in Tanzania, and I tried to sneak out of my final language requirement by going on a May term trip to Honduras – which was technically an ecotourism course with Dr. Kettlecamp. The joke was on me, however, as fate would have it that I have now lived and worked in Spanish-speaking countries throughout Latin America for over 13 years. I don’t know how much Spanish I learned on that trip beyond ‘cuanto cuesta‘ (how much does this cost?), but it gave me a burning desire to continue to stretch beyond my comfort zone, spending time in new cultures and places. Sharing the textbooks from Kate’s Intercultural Studies courses, we debated international development theories and dreamed of putting them into action. It’s incredible how God has taken those dorm room dreams and brought us together again to bring them to fruition.
Fast forward a few years after graduation, you can imagine my amusement when one day Kate calls me to tell me that she’s met the absolute perfect guy for me – but she kissed him on their date. I laughed and said I guess now she was just going to have to keep him. A few years later, in my maid of honor speech at their wedding, I released Kate of our college promise to one another that even when we got married, we would continue to stay roommates- making our husbands live down the hall. So, it was only natural that when she and her new husband started a travel company together, they right away started talking about how I could be part of that new adventure.
Eventually after completing her Masters in International Development, and leading multiple international experiences for students, Kate founded the travel company, Intentional Tours, to offer people the sorts of incredible cross-cultural exchanges we had through Houghton: authentic moments to learn from local people in their spaces, opportunities to grow beyond previously held worldviews, and the deeply felt sense of shared humanity that is found in the simplicity of conversation over a homemade meal.
Now, almost 20 years since we first met at Houghton, Kate and I are pairing up to offer a trip specially designed for women by women. Building off of my networks from living for the past eight years in Ecuador, this trip is designed to give travelers the opportunity to meet and build connections with local women who are creating dynamic communities by starting successful businesses, leading growing teams, and building social movements for positive change.
After more than a year of global stress and uncertainty, this trip is designed to provide a group of women the chance to relax together in nature, explore traditional artisan markets, taste new flavors of foods, and to enjoy connection with one another through shared community.
From a friendship born of silly dance parties in a tiny dorm room, a shared passion for creating the conditions for people to grow and thrive has blossomed. The international experiences Kate and I lived permanently changed us for the better and we are eager to share that same opportunity with others. like Houghton, it is the people and relationships that are the main source of that change. This trip is a way for us to share this passion and make it possible for other people to experience the same sense of excitement and love for life.
We would love to have you come join us in Ecuador, this September 25- October 2, 2021. Ecuador is a country of magical misty mountains, colorful artisan markets, and ancient cobblestone streets. It’s where I’ve made my home, and I would love to show you its beauty.
See more trip details here and here’s a few photos for you to see for yourself: