Monday, April 27, 2015

[How I'm feeling about] The Final Three Weeks

Almost everyone I meet on this trip asks me if I'm tired. I don't mean to be rude, but my first response is usually to laugh without explanation. Of course, I quickly recover and follow up with a polite "yes" - trying to put on a face that this journey isn't wearing on me as much as it actually is.Almost everyone I meet on this trip asks me if I'm tired. I don't mean to be rude, but my first response is usually to laugh without explanation. Of course, I quickly recover and follow up with a polite "yes" - trying to put on a face that this journey isn't wearing on me as much as it actually is.


I was able to spend a long weekend in Melbourne, Australia, where a dear college friend of mine is studying abroad. For five straight days I had no obligations, no stress, and no need to introduce myself. Boy did I need that.

It sounds nice, doesn't it? It certainly was, but this time of rest also opened the chance for all of my experiences over the past eight months to really sink in. As I realized what a process this would be even into the coming months, I have made the difficult decision to return to the U.S. one week earlier than planned - three weeks from now.

While, unfortunately, this will mean only spending one night in the Dominican Republic, I believe that an extra week set aside to process before returning to responsibilities will be vital for this experience to mean even more for my future career. However, for the remaining three weeks I am excited to share with you three things:

  • Reflections and overviews from my time in Southeast Asia and upcoming time in South America
  • Conclusions on best practice for addressing sexual exploitation effectively and globally
  • Overviews of organizations that provide examples for the four categories of aftercare I have encountered

Along with that excitement, though, is some hesitation. It feels imbalanced to be sharing my conclusions from months of study on a platform like this, and writing on the road has certainly been a challenge. During my upcoming summer before beginning graduate school, I plan to write a more formal summary of my discoveries. If you are interested in a copy of this, please let me know. Beyond that, I'm not sure what this informal research will lead to. I hope for something much more meaningful than a simple summary one day. Those of you who have followed me so diligently this year will be the first ones to know about that development - whenever it happens.

Also during my time in Australia, I had some time to think about how this kind of travel has changed me and how I am feeling about returning to the States. I want to share some of these observations with all of you.

Here are just a few simple lessons I've learned about myself and the world:

Even extroverts have their limits for how many new people they can meet in a small span of time.

I have reached that limit.

Some people have joked with me that I should record a short introduction to pass around when meeting new people to save myself the time and energy. Joking aside, I seriously considered this option. The most healing part of Australia for me was being with people that already knew me.

Please don't get me wrong, I have met some of the most amazing people in the world on this trip. I will cherish these connections for the rest of my life. However, the lack of community where I can put down roots is beginning to take its toll on me.

It isn't always wrong to enjoy the small conveniences of life, even after witnessing poverty firsthand.

This is not your typical conclusion after a trip abroad. Many people return feeling guilty for their plenty. For the first few months of my trip, I felt the same. However, I moved past this at a certain point, realizing that my guilt did nothing to help anyone. I have chosen a different perspective. Live frugally as much as possible, enjoy small comforts gratefully, and give wisely where your gifts will go far.

Clothes are one area that I have chosen not to feel guilty for living past the bare minimum. I've found myself impulsively buying a new clothing item almost weekly for the last two months, because I'm ready to burn some of the clothes I've had for the whole journey. I can't at this point accurately predict my reaction to my walk-in closet waiting for me at home. I will either be thrilled at the reunion or overwhelmed by the excess. Maybe both.

Empathy and a learner's mind can go a long way in becoming a better global citizen.

One of my biggest conclusions from this trip is that everyone in the world can stand to grow a bit in empathy - including myself. Some of the biggest problems in the world result from individuals seeking their own fulfillment and success while clambering over others to attain it. This is only possible if we ignore or squash empathic tendencies.

All of the remaining problems in the world are mostly a result of deeply rooted traditions, attitudes, and beliefs. This trip for me has been all about asking questions - living as a learner. This has allowed me to be so much more understanding of alternate viewpoints - because I have (as far as possible) checked my own at the door.

There is nothing inherently wrong with ambition or cultural pride, but if we all took time out of every interaction to try and understand a different point of view, there would be a lot more peace in the world.

Now about returning to the States. To be honest, I've never been more confused about how to feel in my life. Every day I update the countdown for when I will be reunited with family and familiarity. I am beyond ready to not pack my possessions back up every two weeks.

However, this excitement is accompanied by a forboding feeling that it will not be as I expect. I'm writing this after setting foot on American soil for the first time in over eight months. Granted, it was just to walk to a differen terminal at LAX, but there was something significant about that to me. Already I get the feeling that I will expect returning to feel more normal than it actually will. I also wonder how long it will take me to feel restless or even bored after a steady diet of adrenaline this year. Finally, my biggest fear is that I will have changed so much that those who already knew me will have trouble understanding me as before.

With that, I want to make this clear. It has been absolutely worth it. Even if every one of these fears comes to fruition, it will have been worth it. I've only mentioned three realizations I've had on this trip, but the intangible shaping of my worldview is invaluable. I still haven't found the words to describe the profound impact that this journey has had on my general outlook on the world.

Check back for the next three weeks as I wrap up this crazy worldwide adventure!


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