Tarik Shahzad is a Greenheart Travel Ambassador and alum. After spending a week volunteering in Costa Rica at an animal rescue center, he returned to Chicago to finish his senior year at William Howard Taft High School. His renewed passion for sustainability led him to found an environmentalism club at his school, volunteer at a local forest preserve, and pursue a dual degree in Environmental Studies and Law at Cornell University.
Greenheart Travel recently caught up with Tarik to see how his experience abroad has impacted his personal and professional goals, and what exciting plans he has for the future!
What did you learn about yourself and your interests during your time volunteering in Costa Rica?
My volunteer experience in Costa Rica helped solidify my passion for environmental sustainability and protection. I was surrounded by passionate individuals who sacrificed their time for the greater good of the wildlife around them. Their work ethic and devotion to the environment had a profound impact on me. I was inspired to create a positive impact just like the volunteers at Proyecto Asis do every day. My time abroad taught me that giving back to the community and working for the betterment of others is truly self-fulfilling. Moreover, I am convinced that my future goals to improve environmental health were a product of my experiences at the wildlife refuge center. Most importantly, my love for political activism and debate helped combine these two passions into the career path I am pursuing today – environmental law.
Can you tell us about speaking at the Greenheart Gala, and why you accepted the invitation to be a part of that event?
I accepted the invitation to the Greenheart Gala because I wanted to inform the attendees of how important my experiences aboard were in cultivating my passion for environmental sustainability. By speaking at the event, I would have the unique privilege of convincing people to contribute to the environmental career building of countless more youth! My short speech at the Gala was extremely nerve-wracking, knowing that I have one-shot at persuading the attendees to donate to the high school aboard program. Additionally, I felt pressure to do well from myself, since I do not have many friends who are interested in careers centered on the environment. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to speak at the Gala. I hope that the contributions by the attendees will propel Greenheart Travel’s high school abroad program to new heights, and that more students will become inspired in this important field of study.
What have you been up to since you went abroad the summer before your senior year of high school?
After completing my senior year, I volunteered at my local forest preserve for one month. I assisted in clearing trails and gave tours of the preserve during weekdays. In addition, I volunteered for Bernie Sanders campaign and phone-banked for him in New York, California, and Oregon. I chose to support Sanders’ campaign because I believe he had the best environmental record compared to any other candidate in the race, and did not accept money from corporations who regularly pollute our environment on a massive scale. In addition, I recently phone-banked for Tim Canova for the 23rd congressional ward in Southern Florida. Mr. Canova’s stances on eutrophication and water accessibility are the cornerstones of his campaign. Outside of political activism, I spent time with my family and friends; since I will be moving in early September, I wish to cherish the moments I have with them until I begin a new chapter of my life.
How do you think your time in Costa Rica impacted your college search and final decision?
My time in Costa Rica had a powerful impact on both my college search and final decision. I was able to solidify my passion for environmental activism which I then expressed on my college applications. Not only was my experience a supplement to my resume, but it also helped me answer college essay prompts pertaining to my newfound passion and future goals. I wrote essays on how my time in Costa Rica shifted my perspective on potential career paths, and provided necessary insight on how I can make a positive impact on the environment. I believe my time in Costa Rica was a necessary part of my applications. As I searched for different institutions, I centered my research on schools which had renowned environmental programs. Also, I aimed to apply to schools with a student body which would be proactive in environmental activism. I decided to commit to Middlebury College initially because they have the oldest environmental studies program in the nation, and are the first higher-learning institution to pledge carbon neutrality by 2017. However, I will be transferring to Cornell University in the Fall of 2017 because I want to couple environmental studies with a pre-law program, which will help prepare me for environmental law.
What are your future goals (after college)?
My goals after college are applying and hopefully being accepted into law school. I wish to pursue law while utilizing my knowledge in environmental studies to combat injustice within society. I believe that pursuing law may open doors to creating real change for environmental issues plaguing people in our world today. By combining these two fields of study, I hope to fight for constituents who have felt the brunt of environmental injustice because of a corrupt law system. I wish to continue my political and environmental activism even after college and make these a staple in my life. I also wish to teach others about environmental issues, and propel sufficient solutions to environmental issues we are facing today. I have faith knowing this generation has been the most active when it comes to combating climate change and engaging in environmental discourse. Wherever my path may lead, I hope I can enjoy the work I do while also making a positive difference in the lives of others.
Do you want to go back abroad, and if so, where and to do what?
In the future, I wish to visit Palestine and investigate the environmental issues Palestinians are facing. Due to economic and political pressures, the people of Palestine, particularly the West Bank, are constrained in terms of water and food resources. Even though this may seem like a human rights issue, it is also an environmental crisis. Countless water supplies are polluted or prohibited from use. I believe the people of Palestine deserve self-autonomy in terms of their own water resources and I hope gaining first-hand experience on this crisis will help me fight for this important cause.
Ready to have your career path shaped through your own volunteer experience abroad?