Some sixteen-year-olds get their driver’s licenses, but senior Sarah Heirendt also had an unforgettable experience: She backpacked through Europe. During her journey, she toured in Switzerland with a friend, which included a visit to a castle, a boat ride and a celebration of Switzerland’s Independence Day. Visiting Rome and the Colosseum was yet another highlight.
“It was a chance to discover who I am, what my values are, and open myself up to the world. Sometimes it was challenging and I got lonely. Overall, it was an amazing experience of independence,” Heirendt said.
Heirendt was originally going to study at the American University of Geneva, Switzerland. However, some bad news changed her plans. Just days before her high school graduation, her financial aid fell through. She proceeded to consider Vanguard. Financial aid was worked out, a visit was planned, and she came in the next week.
“I think that when one door closes, another one opens. We are exactly where we are supposed to be according to God’s plan,” Heirendt said.
Heirendt completed a semester on the island of Cyprus through a study-abroad program. The North side is Turkish and the South side is Greek. “It is a perfect place between Europe, the Middle East, and Africa,” Heirendt said.
The North side is where she learned about Islam and had her first experiences with the religion. This is what inspired her to travel to the Middle East later on.
From Cyprus, Heirendt went to Egypt. She met her family later in Greece and went to the Greek Islands. She and her sister went to Israel as well. They continued into the Jordan, and went to Petra and the Wadi Rum desert.
She eventually went back to Cyprus, and finished school. When school was finished, she continued into Morocco. She also decided to embark on a camel safari around pyramids, in the Sahara Desert. She then went into Germany. Finally, Heirendt proceeded back to Israel, and went into the West Bank where she worked at a refugee camp for two weeks.
While in Cyprus, Heirendt went to school with people from all over the world. One of her favorite things was going out at night and experiencing the night life with her new friends. This was most memorable.
“It was instrumental in forming my passion for working in the Middle East, opening me up to different perspectives, and making an international friend group,” Heirendt said.
Heirendt has six brothers and one sister. They used to fight, but five years ago her family went through hard times together. Now, her siblings are her best friends. Her older sister lived in Thailand for six months and traveled a semester at sea. This inspired her to travel because she looked up to her sister as her role model.
“My family is my support group, and my community. My parents are completely supportive of whatever I pursue,” Heirendt said.
Heirendt is in the process of applying to graduate schools to get her masters in Peace and Conflict Studies. She one day plans to join the Peace Corps, and even work in the Middle East to advocate Human Rights.
“Since my senior year of high school, I knew my passion was to work internationally and help others in need. I have been blessed with so much. I hope to give others a voice,” Heirendt said.