Study Abroad For A Cause

Cheers from London!

This past weekend I embarked on a trip to Amsterdam, which is of course an unbelievably beautiful city. Aside from visiting popular sights such as the Anne Frank House and taking a boat ride on the famous canals, my friend Sara and I had the privilege of participating in a charity walk for Parkinson’s Disease, a cause that is so near to my heart. My grandfather has been suffering from this unbearable disease for over twenty years, and his struggles have inspired my grandmother and I to take an active role in the hope of one day finding a cure. Over the past few years, we have raised over one thousand dollars through fundraising, and even organizing our own walk. I have also volunteered at the Unity Walk a few times. One year, my best friend and I met Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson’s.

My grandmother’s accomplishments and mine were recognized with a proclamation from the state of New Jersey, as well as a scholarship from the senior citizen group in my hometown. However, we did not expect or want any recognition at all. We just want to find a cure for Parkinson’s to put my grandfather and millions more out of their misery. That being said, I was ecstatic when I found out that a walk was being held in Europe at the same time that I would be studying abroad in London!

Before getting into details about the walk, I just want to clarify what Parkinson’s Disease is, as many of you may be confused. Basically, the brain stops producing a cell called dopamine, which in turn causes involuntarily movement or shaking. This can then cause trouble with walking as well as forcing the body into a hunched over state. As previously mentioned, celebrities such as Michael J. Fox and also Muhammad Ali unfortunately suffer from PD as well.

Honestly, taking part in the European Unity Walk is an experience that I will never forget. Not only was it awesome to be a part of the organization’s first ever walk, but it was breathtaking to share this experience with over one thousand people from twenty-five different countries. I could now say that I was a part of a global community striving for the same goal-to find a cure for Parkinson’s Disease. That being said, I even teared-up listening to the speakers before the walk. For some reason, I felt such a deep connection with my grandparents, who are thousands of miles away. We are lucky enough to have such a uniquely close bond, and I appreciate everything that they have done for me over the past twenty years- from sitting through countless dance recitals and going on dozens of shopping trips. I finally felt that I could give something back to them in return.

Overall, the EPDA did an amazing job of organizing such a large-scale event for the first time. The day went off without a hitch, and it was awesome to meet the CEO of Unity Walk, Carol Walton (we are not related, to my knowledge!). It was very interesting how the walk was set-up through the center of Amsterdam as well, which is very different from Central Park. There were bike riders everywhere, which kept it exciting! The walk ended with a huge celebration, and there were even tents with information regarding Parkinson’s Disease. It really did a great job to spread the message as random people in the city even stopped by to see what all the fuss was about.

Taking “my cause” with me on my study abroad adventure inspired me to stay a part of this wonderful community forever. I know that it is already inspiring my younger brother, who has fundraised over two thousand dollars with my grandmother this past year. It’s heartwarming that we have now made this a “family affair.” I actually feel as if we are all one big happy family, and I want to thank the Parkinson’s Unity Walk in NYC and EPDA in Europe for making me feel as if I was a part of their family this past weekend!


Marissa Walton

Marist College ‘14

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