By Glenn Grow, National Alumni Board
Never let distance define us, at least when it comes to friendships.
That’s what DiscoveryBound National Leadership Council (DB NLC) graduates Emily Swanson and Catherine Smith say about their globetrotting friendship that began worlds apart but has become a worldwide adventure.
A native of Lake Oswego, Oregon, Emily is a creative, artistic, lacrosse-playing graphic designer who enjoys being surrounded by her friends. At the opposite end of the country, Catherine, a Raleigh, North Carolina native, is a studious, intellectual, soccer-loving banking professional who is naturally independent, even among friends.
During their journey through NLC (class of 2011), this dynamic duo of opposites bonded into a friendship that has spanned four continents and continues to blossom.
From Ecuador to Iceland, from Chiang Mai to Cape Town, these two NLC buddies have literally traveled the world together. Yet, as individuals, they could not be more different.
“During high school I was focused on AP classes and was very independent,” says Catherine, “while Emily is more artistic and creative with a large circle of friends.”
Comfortable and compatible travelers
Their friendship began in earnest during their second-year NLC adventure trip in California when they shared a room and talked late into the night. “We talked about everything,” recalled Emily. “After that trip, we would call long distance, usually after 9 p.m. when calling was free, or we would leave voice messages for each other to make up for the 3-hour time difference between North Carolina and Oregon.”
With the regular phone calls and NLC trips, Emily and Catherine’s bond grew stronger. They volunteered on their third-year service trip for two weeks in 2009 in Iowa after major flooding, rebuilding houses, cleaning up and hanging drywall. Their friendship grew.
Rather than visiting each other, they decided to travel together, and they continue to do it every year. “Our NLC experience helped so much with leadership and gave me confidence for trips,” says Catherine.
Traveling can be taxing on friendships sometimes, but it has made Emily and Catherine’s friendship stronger. “Catherine is the most steadfast and selfless person you will ever meet,” says Emily. “Not only does she agree to my crazy ideas, she is supportive through tough times, and pushes me to grow. I couldn’t ask for more in a friend!”
Their tale reads like a travel adventure story. “Initially we made road trips together within the U.S. during college,” explains Emily, “driving across the country from Oregon to St. Louis to Boston, and we even went to Canada via Niagara Falls.” Emily went to Principia College, earning a degree in mass communications, while Catherine graduated from the University of North Carolina, double majoring in sociology and management.
Their first trip overseas was to Iceland, which was so much fun they wanted to make a trip an annual thing. They later traveled to South Africa, with long, planned layovers in London and Paris.
“Emily is fearless, understanding and has the best laugh,” says Catherine. “She knows we can do anything we want to and never limits us. She is always up to try a new ice cream spot – we have to try ice cream everywhere we go to make sure we are really understanding local cuisine! She is a much more confident driver than I am, even on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. She loves water and encourages me to try more water sports such as scuba diving or sailing. She is my life co-pilot and I love learning about the world and God with her.”
The two women next ventured to Asia, visiting Thailand and Cambodia, with a long layover in Beijing, where they scaled the Great Wall together. In Thailand they explored Bangkok, ventured north to Chiang Mai, and took a scuba trip on a live-aboard boat to the Similan Islands, a marine sanctuary in the Andaman Sea in the Indian Ocean.
“Instead of visiting each other, we would travel the world together,” recounts Catherine. “It was nice to go with another Christian Scientist because we have similar interests and approaches to activities when we plan our itinerary. We acted as our own practitioners and uplifted each other during the trips. We loved spending time together. These were uplifting trips. We were just not worried about anything.”
Catherine and Emily have a knack for turning adversity into adventure as well. Take the dreaded layover, which is normally spent begrudgingly in airport corridors. Not these two. They even plan layovers on purpose, full of nonstop activities.
“Emily quickly adapts to situations and learns new things, which makes her a great traveler,” Catherine says. “She is also very good at planning and being prepared, as well as going with the flow. When I planned a few of our layovers in London, Colombia and Beijing, she has been up to do whatever I suggested.”
Catherine shared one her favorite stories from South Africa. “We saved the Table Mountain climb and cable car ride until the last day of our Cape Town trip,” she relates. “It had been hazy days before, and we wanted to go up on a clear day. When we got there, the cable car was closed because of gale winds. We were devastated, so we decided to hike up the mountain. Yes, somehow a 10-minute round-trip on a cable car turned into an 11-mile hike up a ravine that took us three and a half hours round trip. We were told it would take us five hours and we only had six before we needed to catch our bus to the airport. Instead of being upset and focusing on that, we adapted and focused on a solution. And now it’s a great story!”
In their latest 2019 travels, Emily and Catherine ventured to South America, spending time in Ecuador with a long layover in Colombia.
Catherine and Emily attended the A/U Ranches in 2007 during their NLC orientation summer and later worked as CITs (counselors in training) in 2010 and summer staff members in 2012. Being together at camp enabled their friendship to grow in new ways from their relationship born from NLC phone calls or trips.
As a Round-Up (high school) camper in 2007, Catherine affirmed how their bond grew closer at camp. “One day at camp, I was very sad and upset that my cousin decided at the last minute to skip our family summer trip to Illinois,” Catherine remembers. “Emily shared chocolate graham cracker sticks in the bunkhouse and was a good friend, listener and comfort for me.” When they worked at the A/U Ranches, “we would often schedule days off together,” says Catherine.
More than a few lifelong friendships have begun at the A/U Ranches and DiscoveryBound programs such as NLC, yet Catherine and Emily’s friendship is unique.
Emily Swanson was awarded the Congressional Award silver medal for her NLC service. Today, Emily is a graphic designer at The Mother Church in Boston and is a mentor for a student in the 2021X NLC class.
Catherine Smith was awarded the Congressional Award bronze medal for her NLC service and works as a product owner for Deutsche Bank in Raleigh.
Do you have a story of staying connected with an A/U Ranches or DiscoveryBound (formerly A/U chapter) alum? Let us know! Email [email protected].