Julissa Fuentes draws in a deep breath of fresh air as she takes her final steps before reaching the peak of Machu Picchu. High above the clouds, with the intricate Incan architecture surrounding her, Fuentes felt at peace.
For the Recreation Administration senior, the opportunity to climb one of the 7 Wonders of the World was a once in a lifetime opportunity. However, as a combat veteran of the U.S. Army, the experience took on a different meaning.
“It was extremely therapeutic for me,” Fuentes said, “It was physical in itself, but mentally, it was such a peace of mind. It’s hard, sometimes, dealing with certain issues such as post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, so to be able to do this – it was exhilarating. It was just awesome.”
Fuentes was among 17 Fresno State students who traveled to Peru for 15 days, as part of the Recreation Administration 130: International Tourism – Multicultural Issues and Impacts course. The course is aimed at helping students explore the social, cultural, and environmental impacts of tourism and planning through experiential learning opportunities.
Dr. Jason Whiting, associate professor in the Department of Recreation Administration, says the opportunity for students to study abroad is immense, as it increases their understanding for different cultures and beliefs – and sets them up for success, as research indicates.
Fuentes, who is studying Outdoor Recreation and Natural Resource Management, hopes to use her experience toward her future career goals, which is aimed at the veteran population.
“I want to utilize my learning and my experiences to reach out to other veterans and let them know there’s still hope,” Fuentes said. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Coming back from combat, there’s still so much more you can do. There’s a purpose for us and there’s a reason why we came back safe and sound. I want to be an advocate for them.”
During her time in service, Fuentes served three combat tours – two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. In the future, she plans to develop a nonprofit organization for other combat veterans, involving adventure-based activities and excursions. She said she wants to give struggling veterans the same temporary freedom from their disabilities, as she had.
“Recreation and leisure has really helped me push through. It’s one of the reasons I even came to Fresno State,” Fuentes said. “I didn’t think I could actually do college, but participating in recreation therapy and adaptive sports gave me the opportunity to let loose, and really remember who I was as a person. Because of that, I was able to pursue higher education.”
“Being at Fresno State has literally helped me grow as an individual and after five years, has really helped me transition back into the civilian world.”
To support students pursuing international travel, like Julissa, contact Amy Millis, Development Director for the College of Health and Human Services, at email@example.com or 559.278.5590 – or – make a gift on the Nov. 7 Day of Giving.
- Blog written by Kelsey Lyman, CHHS Communication Student Writer
- Video filmed by Mark Morales, CHHS Multimedia Student Assistant