Spotlight Iowa City: Alum gets more than a taste of the world

BY JOSIE JONES | APRIL 06, 2010 7:30 AM

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Andy Stoll didn’t know a road trip to Ames for a Ben Harper and Jack Johnson concert would eventually change his view of the world. The two-hour drive helped Stoll, 30, realize the possibilities available after graduation.

“When you graduate, it’s really amazing, because you can do anything,” he said. “But it’s also extremely scary, because you can really do anything.”

A combination of the regret of not studying abroad during college and the idea of adventure led Stoll to plan a trip around the world. His original idea was to travel for a year, but a scholarship from the Iowa City Noon Rotary Club extended his trip to two years.

After three years of saving money, Stoll began his adventure around the world on Aug. 16, 2006 — eight years to the day he arrived in Iowa City as a freshman at Mayflower. He carried an empty passport, a backpack, and a one-way ticket to China.

The goal of the trip, Stoll said, was to get a better understanding of how people live in the world, and he planned meaningful volunteer opportunities. They led him to cultivate maize in Zambia, climb Mount Kilimanjaro with 10 street kids from Tanzania, play an 18th-century British soldier in Bollywood, and work in a dress factory in Thailand.

At the end of his second year, the native of Omaha was out of money. But there was more of the world that Stoll, who is half-Japanese and half-German, wanted to see. With the recession starting in the United States, it was a bad time to return home anyway. He decided to work while he traveled — beginning in Australia and weaving his way back to Asia.

Spending only around $25 per day during his travels, Stoll found the commonalties that connect cultures and the differences that make them interesting.

“The biggest lesson I learned is that — cultural and language differences aside — we are all much more similar than we’re led to believe,” he said. “At the end of the day, all people in the world just want a better life for their kid.”

David Gould, the University of Iowa interdepartmental studies coordinator, finds Stoll’s universal message to be significant. Gould’s Perspectives in Leisure and Play course requires students to create a plan for a gap year — a time typically spent seeing the world and discovering who you are.

The professor said Stoll inspired the assignment.

“What a way to live a life,” Gould said. “Who knows what [Stoll’s] next chapter will be. I think it will, in part, be to encourage people to [travel].”

That’s what he did for junior Kelsie Neubauer — a student in Gould’s course — who may follow through with her gap year plan of volunteering at orphanages in North America.

“[Stoll] helped me realize there are so many things you can do,” said Neubauer, 20. “And that you can make them possible with a little bit of research.”

Even though Stoll has a story to share and friends all over the world, he’s ready to settle down in the town where he’s most comfortable.

“I’ve been in 37 countries and 250 cities,” he said. “And Iowa City still has some of the best combinations of things that make it a place I like to call home.”

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