buildOn Alum Erica Virvo Inspired to Travel and Change the World

We were recently contacted by buildOn alum Erica Virvo about the path that she’s taken after being inspired by constructing a school with us in Nicaragua almost 10 years ago. Virvo now works at Richmond Vale Academy (RVA), which provides community service leadership training and opportunities to travel abroad to developing countries to make a difference. To learn more, read Virvo’s reflection, below, and contact her at!

Born and raised under the same roof in Connecticut my entire life, I never pictured myself living in any other country, ever.

buildOn changed my view of what my life could be. At the age of 15 (nine years ago), I got a taste of Nicaragua that left a lasting impression on me. Traveling to Palo Verde, a tiny village of 200 Spanish-speaking, salsa dance-loving, family-oriented, schoolhouse-needing villagers showed me that my actions could make a difference. I mixed my first batch of cement, dug my first latrine, sucked on my first sugarcane stalk, ate my first bean and met the first group of people that directly benefited from my service. buildOn gave me a chance to better understand the win-win situation that is achieved by empowering American students to then help empower communities worldwide.

My path after buildOn has been similarly inspiring. I moved to Education City, in the tiny Muslim country Qatar, to finish my art degree. Living in a Middle-Eastern culture was eye-opening, but traveling with another buildOn-like student group (Reach Out to Asia) to a Cambodian Orphanage reignited my Nicaraguan-inspired spark for international community service.

[pullquote]buildOn changed my view of what my life could be.[/pullquote]

That’s it! I was on a mission with three-goals in mind:


After graduation, I waited tables just long enough to fund my next adventure: volunteering in extremely-rural Thailand. I earned my TEFL-certification online, then hopped on a plane. Teaching English, living, cooking, eating, singing, dancing and learning from my host family was such a productive way to become instantly enveloped by the Thai community!

Choosing to continue to live abroad, but being cautious of my dwindling bank account, I accepted a year-long job teaching English to South Korean elementary school students.

As a fun-loving, adventurous, outgoing, responsible traveler who tries to always say “yes” to every new experience offered (except for the ones that involve me digesting the raw meat and blood delicacy that my Thai host grandfather tried to serve me on several occasions).

Always on the go, I love to do, do, do in order to experience everything a country has to offer. I am the person that you run into wherever you go because I am, well, everywhere!

I have perfected my body language, grunting- and charade-capabilities to get my point across to non-English speakers. I love to learn about the world, and first- hand experience is my favorite way to do that. In the past 3 years, I have gone to 15 countries, lived in 4, studied in 1, worked in 2, volunteered in 5 and loved every minute of it all.

Currently, my buildOn spirit has led me to live and volunteer in the Caribbean at Richmond Vale Academy (a community service leader training program). Soon I will fulfill my dream of beating a drum whilst standing on the rich soil of Africa. With determination, flexibility, creative problem solving skills and a can-do attitude, you too can make your dreams of traveling the world a reality.

I cannot thank buildOn enough for introducing me to the wonders of volunteer-travel and showing me that I can make a difference.