As a young man, Eric Jordan of Brooklyn, New York embarked on a journey that changed his life—and would later change many more lives. His ten-month trip to Spain left a profound impact on him, and from that point forward, he always wanted to share his love for traveling with other young people, especially those who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to do so. Today, Eric is a veteran high school English teacher who’s doing just that. Every year since 2017, he’s taken a small group of students abroad to countries like Spain, Japan, and South Africa. And while the COVID-19 pandemic has put a temporary pause on Eric’s undertaking, nothing can stop his unrelenting spirit and his passion to inspire students to dream big, travel far, and learn through experience.
Soon after he graduated college in 2003, Eric Jordan packed his bags and hopped on a plane to Barcelona, Spain, where he lived and taught English for ten months. During his time abroad, he learned a lot about Spanish culture, met some incredible people, and made memories that he would cherish for a lifetime. But perhaps even more importantly, Eric’s trip instilled a sense of wonder in him; he was noticeably more adventurous, curious, and confident in his day-to-day life. It was, in Eric’s words, “a transformational, impactful, deep, personal experience.”
As soon as his homecoming flight touched down on US soil, he knew that traveling would always be an important part of his life, and he wanted to share his newfound passion with other young people just like him. He just didn’t yet know how to do it.
Fast-forward 13 years to October 2016, when Eric was in his 9th year teaching English at Frederick Douglass Academy VII (FDA VII), a public high school in the Brownsville area of Brooklyn, New York. One day, Eric was folding laundry in his apartment when his mind drifted back to his time in Spain. Realizing that the following summer would mark 10 years since his last visit to Spain, Eric was overwhelmed with a sense of nostalgia—for the food, the people, the culture—and decided that he was long overdue for another visit; he needed to go back there ASAP.
And then he had another idea.
“I had this thought: how cool would it be, like, instead of just me going back there… what if I made a trip out of it? You know, what if I exposed other students to the life out there? And as soon as I had that idea, it was like, ‘Oh, I have to do this.’”
It was an exciting prospect to fly a group of teenagers from Brooklyn to Spain, especially since many of his students didn’t often have the luxury to leave their neighborhood, let alone ride in an airplane or travel to a different country. The trip, Eric envisioned, would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn about life in other parts of the world—one that his students would likely never get to experience otherwise.
There was only one problem: for the average student, traveling halfway across the world was expensive, and for many of those at FDA VII, it was also unaffordable. To send ten students to Spain, it would cost approximately $44,000. Nevertheless, Eric was determined to make the trip a reality, but he couldn’t do it alone.
Over the course of the next couple of months, Eric poured his time and energy into building an enthusiastic community of supporters. He collaborated with FDA VII staff & administration, parents, and members of the broader Brownsville community. Together, they devised a catchy name for the initiative, Brownsville Abroad, and a fundraising strategy to boot. In December of 2016, Eric and his Brownsville Abroad team hit the ground running.
Eric organized fundraising parties, raffles, art auctions, kickball games, community 5K runs, a social media campaign, and more. To reel in even more donations, Eric set up a GoFundMe, and he was blown away by his community’s support. The fundraiser ended up generating a staggering $42,000 from more than 1,000 donors nationwide, which helped Eric meet and beat his total fundraising goal.
“There is really something that comes from the communal aspect of crowdfunding… It becomes a way for thousands of people to find out that there’s a school in Brownsville that’s doing this. And there are people that want to be on board… That, to me, I think is the most inspiring secondary or tertiary effect of this—the way that it has people in our community show up.”
In July of 2017, Eric, two other chaperones, and ten of his students embarked on their long-awaited journey to Spain. Needless to say, the trip was a huge success. On their seven-day adventure, the teens traveled through Barcelona, Zaragoza, and Madrid, experiencing some of the most exciting things that the cities have to offer. The group saw the architecture of Gaudí, met up with art students in Zaragoza, went on historical tours, took a flamenco lesson, attended concerts, and ate traditional cuisine—all while connecting with the locals who lived there. A local history professor even found out about the group’s travels through town and offered to teach the students about a group of Jewish people from Brownsville who fought against Franco in the Spanish Civil War.
After returning from Spain, Eric told local Brownsville reporters at Patch that the kids who went on the trip came back changed.
“They walk a little differently, there’s an extra confidence, a little twinkle in the eye… It comes from having done something adventurous and unique.”
This was certainly true for one of Eric’s former students at the time, Javon, who reflected on his trip experience with the same reporters.
“It made me willing to try more new things and to meet new people.” Javon said. “I’m not always the best at that.”
Based on the glowing feedback that he received from his students, Eric knew that this first international class trip wouldn’t be the last. He quickly set his sights on another ambitious goal: bringing six different groups of scholars to six continents in six years. And up until last year, Eric had made good on his word. He took 15 students to Japan in 2018 and ten students to South Africa in 2019.
And then, the COVID-19 pandemic took the world by storm, derailing Eric’s plans to take his class to Ghana in 2020. But as disappointing as the circumstances were for him and his students, Eric wasn’t planning on giving up any time soon. Today, he remains committed to providing future students with opportunities to explore new corners of the world and gain new perspectives as soon as it’s safe to do so. FDA VII’s GoFundMe Brownsville Abroad is still active and accepting donations.
“The reason I do it [is that] travel is a whole different kind of education.” Eric told Patch. “You’re giving someone an education that alters who they are.”
And, he says, the benefits of his initiative don’t stop there.
“Students going on [these trips] will graduate with passports in-hand, faith that there is a way to get anywhere they want to go, and knowledge that they belong anywhere they say they belong… Let’s change [their] lives.”
To learn more about Eric and his mission, listen to his inspiring interview from 2019 on GoFundMe’s podcast True Stories of Good People.
To meet more kind New Yorkers who are making a difference, click here.
Main and top image credit: Kathleen Culliton for Patch New York