As she rode a camel across the Judean Desert of Israel, the sun blazing high above her head, Rachel Wimbish was a mix of emotions. She never guessed that living out her dream would be so frightening.
“Camels are scary!” Wimbish says as she recalls one of the most memorable experiences of a three-country tour of the Middle East between her sophomore and junior years at the University of Wyoming. “They have giant teeth, and you’re told not to touch their heads because they’ll bite you.”
She smiles and continues, “But then when you’re riding, the camel behind you has its head right up by your leg the entire time, so you don’t want to move because you’re worried it’s going to take a chunk out of you.”
Though she was nervous while sitting atop the even-toed creature with a hump on its back, Wimbish also was grateful. The fulfillment of one of her lifelong goals wouldn’t have been possible without the generous financial support of former Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne.
The Cheneys, citing the future global contributions of UW students, gifted $6.4 million in 2009 to facilitate the opening of the Cheney International Center, which serves as home to all of the university’s international offices, and fund a scholarship endowment to support study-abroad opportunities.
The UW International Board of Advisors recognized the Cheneys’ contributions by awarding them the Outstanding Achievement in International Affairs by Wyoming Citizens, established in 2001.
“I think promoting internationalization is one of the best things we can do, as a university, because we’re not competing in just the United States anymore and we need to have opportunities to go places we would have never gone before,” says Wimbish, who grew up in Hanau, Germany, with a great desire to follow in her family’s footsteps and study at UW. “I definitely wouldn’t have been able to afford to go anywhere without the Cheney fund, and I’m so thankful for the Cheneys and their support of the university.”
Also in the Middle East, Wimbish says she hiked near a natural spring that was “probably the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen” and experienced the culture in a part of the world with special meaning to her family. Her grandfather, Charles, earned a degree in Middle Eastern history from UW, and her mother, Tory, went to high school in Iran and later graduated from UW. Wimbish’s grandmother, Elizabeth, is also a UW graduate.
“I’ve been saying since I was 7 that I was gonna be a Poke!” says Wimbish, an international studies/economics double major who will graduate in May.
The Cheney fund also allowed Wimbish to study at the London School of Economics for a summer semester. “Every afternoon, I was out walking around London,” she says. “All their museums are free, so I would go into anywhere I could.”
But London was tame compared to straddling a camel in the picturesque Judean Desert. Wimbish has another warning about the animals, in addition to their penchant for snapping at people.
“Oh gosh, they stink” she says. “They’re awful.”