On Saturday, St. Louis Park native Renee Langlois will be embarking on a unique two-year journey.
"I wanted to work with children in a war-torn area ... I've always kind of wondered what it's like for the kids over there," she said. "How can I improve little things in their lives?"
The former Soviet state has had a long standing conflict with neighboring Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
In addition, Azerbaijan is a predominantly Muslim country, something Langlois said she will have to adjust to. She said she wants to immerse herself in the culture, so this means learning—and adopting—Muslim habits and traditions.
"It's going to be one heck of a change," she said. "(But) I want to be as much a part of (society) as possible."
Langlois will be working on improving and implementing programs for youth through schools, libraries and other institutions. Langlois currently works at the Discovery School of Virginia as a counselor and said she will be able to transfer some of her knowledge overseas.
"I definitely will be able to bring my experience," she said. "But at the same time, what works for kids here won't always work there."
Ultimately, Langlois said she simply likes to work with kids, so she's sure she'll adapt just fine. She taught at St. Louis Park's American Karate Studio growing up and said she learned a lot about interacting with youngsters. She said she also found several instructors there to be great role models.
After graduating high school and leaving St. Louis Park, Langlois went to St. Cloud State University and continued her love of interaction with people young and old, as she studied psychology.
"I like people and how they operate—what makes them go," Langlois said.
Certainly, spending two years away from friends and family will be quite the change, but Langlois—who just created a Skype account—said she is ready for this chapter of her life.
"They're proud of me," she said of her family and friends. "They're excited about it."