Public Interest Law
I first witnessed the power of the individual to engender change as a high school graduate in the summer of 1990. I was one of 10 American youths, chosen from a nationwide pool of applicants, to join 10 Soviet youths on a river rafting expedition in Siberia with Project RAFT (Russians and Americans for Teamwork). For three weeks we worked side by side, literally dependent on cooperation and mutual trust for survival. In the evenings, while sitting in a circle around glowing cedar campfires, we held structured discussions on subjects ranging from nuclear disarmament to global warming and racism. At first we struggled to communicate across language barriers, but we quickly found common ground and successfully created a microcosm of a society in which mutual respect, affection, and commitment to our ideals drove our actions. This experience was nothing short of an epiphany for me: working one-on-one with The Enemy forced me to look past stereotypes and prejudices and work with them as individuals. I realized that this approach is the most powerful tool for effecting significant change. I returned home a changed person; in no uncertain terms, I had learned that every person does matter, every vote does count, and change is possible.
My experience with Project RAFT inspired me to continue my ties to Russia: in 1992, following the demise of the Communist government, I returned for a semester at St. Petersburg State University. In addition to taking coursework in Russian language, literature, society, and history, I volunteered through the American Consulate as an interpreter with the international humanitarian aid airlifts known as "Operation Provide Hope." I also spent countless hours with the family of a priest whose parish was just outside the city, in previously abandoned and virtually destroyed church in the town of Pavlovsk. There I distributed humanitarian aid, designed and translated text for the parish website, and organized fundraising efforts abroad for the church's restoration.
I returned a third time to Russia the following summer, to work as an interpreter at an academy...