Last summer, we teamed up with Roadtrip Nation and Better Make Room to send three young people who are in college (or on their way!) on a road trip around the country to talk to folks who have overcome obstacles of all kinds to finish their education. As these three road‐trippers traveled coast to coast, they heard real stories and struggles, and got inspiration and lessons for the road ahead. Hear more from our interview with one of the road-tripper’s, Esther.

Esther is nineteen years old, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. For Esther, theater was always a way to escape what was happening at home. And even when home changed, as she moved from an abusive household and bounced through the foster care system, her love of acting persisted. At 13, when she and her brother were adopted into a big family, she gained 19 new brothers and sisters and a world of support. The challenges she has faced have made her stronger, and she’s determined not to let them limit her or her opportunities. She’ll be a freshman this fall at the University of Wisconsin—Stevens Point.

Tell us about yourself and why you chose to go on this road trip?

I’m from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Growing up, I was in and out of foster care because my biological parents dealt with drug abuse and were not equipped to be the best parents. My brother and I were put in the foster care system. I was adopted but through the ups and downs of the foster care system, I was faced with mental and emotional trauma that I’m still navigating today. Before entering into my freshman year of college, I knew it was time to do something different and out of the ordinary. I saw an ad for the Beating the Odds Roadtrip online and thought it was an amazing opportunity and why not—so I applied! This road trip was just the answer I needed while trying to navigate the adversity and obstacles I face as a young adult; it was a healing experience for me.

What was your favorite moment during the road trip and why?

There were several moments that stood out to me, but the quiet, personal, and authentic conversations about life with the other road-trippers was a highlight for me. I was the youngest road-tripper, and it was nice to have an older sibling-type relationship with Ikie and Estephanie. That said, certainly meeting Michelle Obama and talking to her about being a first-generation college student was a moment I will never forget.

What are some of the biggest lessons you learned from this trip?

Realizing the things we’ve all overcome, which may seem negative at first, make us better, stronger people. When you go through hardships, it’s easy to be negative; but my hardships have made me stronger.

Who was your favorite leader to talk to and why?

Ashley Rhodes-Courter! She wrote a book called “Three Little Words” about the foster care system, and I saw myself in her book. I found bits and pieces in her book that I fully connected with and talking with her made me more optimistic and positive, especially about the foster system. I learned a lot in the hour we had together and will never forget her kindness and what she taught me about success.

What is a fun fact about you that you’d like to share?

Did you know that I have 20 other siblings?!

Final Thoughts: I would encourage everyone to get out of their comfort zone one time in their life. Being on the road with complete strangers taught me so much, and I would encourage everyone to do something crazy like that in their life.

*Transcribed by Katie Gragnaniello