Alumna Sucheta Rawal Is Using Dinners to Open Doorways to the World
Sucheta Rawal says she’d never left her native India before coming to the United States to visit colleges. She picked a good time to get some international exposure.
“I came to Atlanta during the Olympics and visited Georgia State and Georgia Tech. I knew I wanted to study business, so this was an obvious choice for me,” she says. “I was looking for an international school where I could meet a lot of people from different countries and not feel homesick coming straight from India.”
Sucheta’s wanderlust didn’t end once she earned her master’s degree in finance from Georgia State in 2004. She went to work for a Dutch investment bank, which helped her afford the opportunity to travel — four new countries a year, by her estimation – and she did some freelance writing about her adventures. It was on a trip to Morocco three years ago, though, that she finally found her calling.
A Journey of a Thousand Miles Starts with a Single Meal
“I started a blog for my trip to Morocco, which was a volunteer trip,” she says. “My blog was about promoting cultural awareness through volunteering and not just being a tourist. I started getting invited to speak to groups about volunteer vacationing — what that means, how people can travel for cheap and how they can see the real culture of a country.”
That blog, combined with the charitable donations Sucheta was helping to gather for other volunteer-vacationing organizations, soon became the nonprofit organization Go Eat Give. According to Sucheta, the goal of Go Eat Give is “to raise cultural awareness through food, travel and volunteering.”
“Everybody comes together over food,” she explains. “Everybody meets family members, friends and acquaintances and says ‘Let’s get together over dinner.’ Everybody can connect over food and learn about a culture through the food. For example, we had an event for Afghanistan. Most people, when they think of Afghanistan, they think about what’s in the news, the war — they never think about what the food or culture is like, let alone travel there. So we had an event where we showcased the food and dance of Afghanistan and had a speaker. After listening to her, the people who attended changed their whole perspective on the Afghan people: how they eat, how they live, what the culture is like there.”
Lifelong Memories, Off the Beaten Path
But Go Eat Give’s work isn’t done once dinner is over and the plates have been taken away. The organization assembles volunteer vacation tours that offer visitors a deeper view of a nation’s culture than they’d get at shopping malls and traditional tourist destinations. Their recent trip to Indonesia, Sucheta explains, is a prime example.
“Typically, when people go to Bali, they stay around Kuta, the beach, in an all-inclusive resort and maybe spend one day seeing the temples or something like that. In our case, it was just the reverse. We went to the beach for one day and spent the rest of the time seeing the culture and volunteering.
“We had an in-depth look at the Balinese culture, which is slightly different from Indonesian,” Sucheta says. “We had yoga every morning; we went to cooking and batik painting classes; we volunteered at a children’s project and gave workshops on health, nutrition, sanitation and dental care. We took donations of toothbrushes and soaps and left some educational materials behind with the teachers about nutrition and the human body.”
The one-on-one connections her travelers made with the people of Bali — in their homes, schools and churches — had a much more profound effect than if they’d just spent the whole week on the beach, Sucheta says. “Everybody who came from the Bali trip wanted to sponsor a child to go to school for a year, which costs $30 a month,” she says. “Not a whole lot of money, but now that they were able to see those kids, visit their families and visit their schools, they’re more connected and more likely to give.”
The World at Her Doorstep
Sucheta credits her experience at Georgia State with inspiring her to look beyond international boundaries — and encouraging others to do the same.
“It was an opportunity to meet so many people,” she remembers. “I was here with my mom, in a new place where I didn’t know anybody. I think it started something in me that pointed me toward what I’m doing right now. It gave me so many opportunities to interact with people of different cultures — through the Golden Key Honors Society, for example, I was able to travel and go to different conferences. I don’t think I would be where I am right now if not for those experiences.”
Which is not to say Sucheta hasn’t put down roots in Atlanta. She got married while she was in school, she’s bought a house in Vinings and, of course, become a member of the Georgia State Alumni Association. But the same international connections that made Georgia State the perfect university also make Atlanta a great place to live. And she’s enjoyed getting to share those connections with others.
“There are a lot of people here who are open-minded, but they’re also eager to learn. It’s not like New York, where everybody’s already been exposed to a lot of cultures. Here, we see a little bit of hesitation, but people still want to know more. That’s been important when we’ve had events around Lebanon or Afghanistan or Iran. People might not try it on their own, but when they come to the events, they learn so much, and they start exploring those places for themselves.”