Girl on the Move
by Mary Hope Roseneau
Photography provided by Danielle Breidung
Danielle Breidung got bitten by the travel bug in seventh grade. Growing up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, Danielle’s family didn’t take vacations. “Since cows don’t take vacations, my family didn’t either,” she explained. She heard about a “People to People” travel program to Australia, and she begged her parents to just go to the information meeting. The cost of the trip was high, and her parents wisely said she would have to earn the money herself to go. She did, babysitting and whatever jobs and fundraisers a seventh grader could come up with. Thankfully her grandparents came through at the very last with the small amount needed to push her over the top. That summer trip before eighth grade changed her life.
By her junior year in high school, Danielle was an American Field Services exchange student to Argentina, again earning her own way for the expenses. While there she began her travels to other South American countries, travelling with her host family, other students, and eventually by herself, with advice from the host sponsors. She learned self-reliance, being respectful of other cultures and the importance of doing your homework ahead of time.
Now, at 27, Danielle has visited a total of 71 countries and six continents, and the stories she has are fascinating. Meeting at my favorite coffeehouse, I planned to visit with her only 30 minutes, but it turned into an hour-and-a-half without my realizing it. She is an excellent storyteller and loves to tell about people she has met in these places, as opposed to focusing on the geography. Her theme is one of the goodness of humanity she has found and the kindness of strangers.
In Brazil on a branch of the Amazon, she was dropped off a boat to connect with another one, supposedly “coming soon.” There was no cell phone service, and the small village was very isolated from the rest of the world. A man came by and offered to take her to his house to wait for the expected boat. His family cleared out a room in their small house just for her and offered the best of their food and hospitality for what turned out to be several days, not a few hours. Danielle was feeling hopeful but extra alert about this situation. Fortunately, another villager eventually took her in his boat to another place on the river to catch the elusive boat.
In Morocco, a bearded driver picked her up late in the night from the airport and suddenly pulled into a gas station and disappeared inside for a few minutes. Thoughts of “what now” and “what could happen next” flashed through her mind as she sat alone in his darkened taxi. After a few minutes, he returned with a banana and yogurt, a snack for her, he indicated politely. She hired him for a couple of other
rides while in his country, because of his unexpected kindness to a young woman travelling alone.
After high school Danielle attended Washington and Lee University and received a degree in Sociology and Anthropology. Learning foreign languages had intrigued her since elementary school, and she is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese. She was interested in understanding other people’s culture— their hopes and dreams and everyday lives. Part of her undergraduate capstone project involved the development of a fruit export business in Brazil, the camu-camu fruit, which was how she found herself in that tiny village on the Amazon. While living in Brazil from 2012-2014, Danielle entered a Master’s program with Loyola University and eventually received a degree in International Higher Ed.
Wanting to return to the U.S., she accepted a job with AmeriCorps VISTA at the University of South Carolina Beaufort and fell in love with the Lowcountry of South Carolina. She introduced her students to the numerous non-profit agencies in the area and the many different, well-meaning people, who are trying to help the less fortunate here. The idea for her business, Lowcountry Synergy came to her, as her website www.lowcountrysynergy.com states, “Connecting community benefit organizations with the human and financial capital they need to thrive.” She writes grants, teaches technology skills, empowers youth and offers coalition workshops, anything her clients need to achieve their goals.
She is also the President-elect of the 80-member Bluffton Rotary Club. Her love for community service started back in Wisconsin with the 4-H activities her farm family encouraged. She began attending the Bluffton chapter when employed at USCB, and next year will be the youngest (27!) and only the fourth female president in club history.
When asked what countries she loves the most, she hedged a little: “I’ll tell you two that I want to go back to: Ireland and Italy.” Other countries she plans to visit in the future are the Scandinavian and Baltic ones, Norway and Finland for example.
Other future plans are a PhD degree program, and she is making a decision about that soon. She wants to add scholarship to her 19 years of working with nonprofits, and it will be a degree that supports her philosophy of people helping others in the community. Of course she can continue with her consulting company remotely, wherever she is.
Danielle encourages others to “Just come see! There is so much common humanity and kindness in the world, and I want to invite people out to experience it, too!”
Travel Tips from Danielle:
• Follow your curiosity! Read as many books, magazines and Internet articles as you can, and even watch movies about the country before visiting.
• Respect local culture. She made a spreadsheet of what to wear each day while travelling through India and Bangladesh. Clothing for women is quite strict there.
• Use your best judgment. If something doesn’t feel right somewhere, go with your instincts. Yes, there are a few countries Danielle won’t visit right now.
• Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from the locals, or professionals back home.
• Google is your friend! Don’t be blindsided!
Join Us May 12th for MAYFEST in Bluffton
10- 5 pm- along Calhoun Street in Old Town Bluffton, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Bluffton. Free admission. 200 vendors: Crafters, artisans, musicians, annual pie eating contest and children’s donut eating contest. Details: 843-815-2277 or blufftonmayfest.com.