At just 15, Bryn Cain moved from her Edgemere Park home to Australia for a year. She’s been traveling, studying and working abroad ever since. Now 25, Bryn is back in Australia to work on a master’s degree as a Rotary International Peace Fellow.
Wanderlust, said Bryn’s mom, Nancy Cain, is in her blood.
“She got some of it from me,” she said, “just having my genes.”
Cain moved to Sierra Leone with the Peace Corps in the 1960s and has traversed six continents since then. Her daughter Bryn is now traveling her own similar path.
It all started at 15 with a desire to visit Oz.
“I always wanted to go to Australia, but there was no real reason to go,” Bryn said.
But a field trip with her high school, Classen School of Advanced Studies, changed that. They visited the Oklahoma Children’s Theatre, where Bryn spoke with director Lyn Adams, an Australian and a member of the local Rotary club.
“She said, ‘You want to go to Australia? Why not go for a year? You can go for free with Rotary!’ I went home that night and told my mom I was moving to Australia for a year.”
Bryn moved to Brisbane, Australia, in 2000 as part of the Rotary Youth Exchange.
“I was 15 years old, traveling by myself, had never been overseas before, and was moving to a very far away place for a whole year,” she said.
Although she still considers Oklahoma home ” her mom, retired from the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, and dad, former state Sen. Bernest Cain, who represented OKC for 30 years, live in the metro ” Bryn hasn’t looked back since that first trip a decade ago. After graduating high school, Bryn decided to go to college at Richmond University in London, where she studied international relations with a minor in economics.
“The school she went to in London, she went to school with people from all over the world,” Nancy Cain said, “so she’s gotten a much better worldview.”
“I feel it’s hard to understand the outside world if you’ve never experienced it,” she said. “I was so ignorant about the world before I started traveling, not to say I’m really much more informed now. Living in England and Australia, I’ve learned how shockingly different our three languages are even though we all purport to speak the same language.”
But it was more than just a language barrier to overcome when Bryn joined the Peace Corps after college. She lived in the West African country of Senegal from September 2006 to October 2008.
“Senegal was a pretty big culture shock,” Bryn said. “You eat with your hands there and take showers out of a bucket. The cars are all 30 years old and barely running. Everything stops five times a day so people can pray. It’s very different.”
It was challenging, yes, but also incredibly rewarding, she said. Bryn taught basic business skills while in the country ” things like applying for loans, writing business plans and marketing a product ” and also worked with women’s groups. But her time in Senegal was more than simply teaching others.
“I lived with a Muslim family for two years in Senegal, and I still say Alhamdulilahi (“thanks be to God” in Arabic) any time anything goes well in my life.”
And Bryn has much for which to be thankful. Her time in the Peace Corps garnered a local article, which caught the attention of Tom Baines, a member of Bricktown Rotary. He had long been involved with the Rotary International Peace Fellowship, and had in fact been a past chairman of the Rotary International program out of which the scholarship grew.
After a career in the military working in peacekeeping forces and a second career as an attorney, Baines said he has an interest in finding peaceful means to end disputes ” which is what the fellowship focuses on.
“If you’ve ever been to war, you don’t want to go to another one,” he said.
He has been involved with Rotary for 20 years, and formed a selection committee to find a candidate for the fellowship.
The scholarship, said Bricktown Rotary President Peter Fulmer, is a unique opportunity and one that can strengthen the connections between us and the rest of the world.
“As “¦ we all become more interconnected, there is an ever-increasing need for those of us that are willing and able to further the cause of common understanding and cooperation between peoples,” Fulmer said.
With a committee in place to support a candidate, Baines contacted Bryn while she was still in Africa, and Bricktown Rotary sponsored her application.
“There’s a certain kind of person who has a demonstrated interest in international affairs,” Baines said about looking for the right candidate. “For such a young person, Bryn showed that she had a sincere interest.”
Fulmer echoed that sentiment.
“Bryn is uniquely experienced and motivated to arm herself with the education we will provide,” he said, “and she will use that knowledge to strike out to find solutions and to bring people together.”
After a lengthy application process, Bryn was chosen as one of 11 North Americans to win the scholarship, and Baines said she is the first Oklahoman to ever be chosen.
“The recession was at its peak,” Bryn said, “and I left Senegal having no idea what I was going to do with myself. About a week after I left Senegal, I was in London and got a phone call that I’d gotten the scholarship. I was so thrilled, I started screaming and crying.”
The fellowship allowed Bryn to apply to one of seven universities. One was in Brisbane, where she had kicked off her life of travel.
“Since I had previously lived in Brisbane and had an understanding of the University of Queensland and how good it is, I decided to apply to it instead of the others.”
The situation, said Nancy Cain, is ideal for her daughter. “She’s not too far from the ocean, and she’s living with one of her former host sisters,” she said. “It just worked out phenomenally well.”
While in Australia, Bryn will get her master’s in international studies with a focus on peace and conflict resolution. The Rotary fellowship covers living expenses, courses and also three months of field work.
“It is an incredible scholarship,” she said.
Bryn doesn’t know exactly what she’ll do when she’s completed her master’s, but she would like to work with private companies that help the developing world.
“There are actually a lot of companies out there doing great work to make people’s lives better while still trying to make a profit,” she said. “I want to help people live longer and be happier in cities that have functioning, well-equipped schools, running water, good roads and strong banks. However I can do that, I will.”
No matter where she ends up, Bryn said she finds commonality across all people ” especially in the little acts of kindness.
“Everywhere I go, from living in Austin last year, to Bolivia to China to Brisbane to OKC, people will happily go out of their way to make a complete stranger’s life a little brighter,” she said. “I am so filled with gratitude and joy every time someone commits a random act of kindness from which I benefit, and they happen all over the world.”
The Rotary International Peace Fellowship is awarded every two years to 50 master’s students and 50 professional development participants. Applicants from all over the world vie for the scholarship, which Tom Baines of Bricktown Rotary said is worth about $120,000.
“We have a committee at each district level that tries to find candidates “¦ the application is submitted by each sponsoring district “¦ and they’re ranked and reviewed by a prestigious committee of senior Rotary people at national headquarters,” Baines said of the application process.
This year, the winners included 11 from North America. Baines said Bryn Cain is the first Oklahoman to win the scholarship.
Winners attend one of seven prestigious universities in Australia, England, Japan, Thailand, Argentina and the U.S. While there, the master’s students work toward a degree in one of several approved fields, including international relations, sustainable development and peace studies.
Baines is already looking for new candidates for the next round of scholarships. “Jenny Coon Peterson