Last weekend, for some reason, I ended up having a really insightful and deep conversation about the honest reasons that drove me to choose the career path I did; namely international relations as a major. To make this point I reminisced on the trip I took to the UN when I was fifteen. The program I attended mainly focused on bringing together potential entrepreneurs and social leaders from all around the world. They gave us hardcore training on key areas and put a lot of time and effort in getting us to network with each other and stay connected (this was all prior to social networks). At the time, I remember bitching and moaning about all the work we had to do, since hanging around, eating junk food and trying to sneak out at night with my international friends sounded much more appealing than sitting through Leadership Group Meetings or attending conferences… at that point in my life in speakers didn’t impress me much, so it took some time for me to appreciate the kind of people I got to meet.
During this trip I met people from places I didn’t know existed (like Guam or Curacao), I learned what a Druze is and that they are the only arabs allowed into Israel, I used and heard the word “leader” in every possible context and I started my, now famous, imitation of the Indian accent; as well as my incredibly inappropriate Mexican stereotyping. It was one of the best times of my life, and probably the trip that determined most of my academic decisions. I also made some really good friends, some I have met again, others I still speak to and the rest will remain forever in my thoughts, along with the fantastic memories we shared.
This was the first time I came face to face with organizations that had achieved impact in their communities, and my mind was blown away. Today I found a Peace Brigades International handout I got when we visited their offices in NY, on the back of it I wrote “save for the future”, and underlined the part where it says that they only take volunteers to work on the field once they’re done with their majors and past the age of 25. I turned 25 last Sunday, I sent my application to become and UNHCR volunteer two days ago and the PBI one (for their Nepal program) today.
I was shuffling through my conference folder, when I found a cover speech I wrote at the time reflecting on my experience, capabilities and plans for the future, I wrote it because I was competing for a position in the Global Summit (which I didn’t get). I remember going over it on a bus with my friend Len (the first Buddhist I ever met), he corrected my use of the words “this” versus “these” and told me that what I was writing wasn’t exactly an essay, even though I titled it that way. He thought it was good.
“Why not me, why can’t I make this difference” –Zura Bahman (keynote speaker)
These well-spoken words can very well summarize the reason why I chose to become a volunteer. I wanted to make a difference, I wanted to make things better for someone else. To achieve this, I’ve come a long way, and even though I still have many things left to learn and do, I believe that throughout this experience I have forged my character, becoming more patient, assertive, fair, analytic and enthusiastic about the future.
In this program, I’ve had an amazing chance to develop a more critical point of view, not only towards the circumstances or towards my partners, I’ve learned to mainly stay critical towards myself. I consistently try to be creative and reinvent the aspects of my personality and character that may get in the way of a better process or solution. Above all, I’ve learned to place what’s better for the team above what’s more convenient for myself. I have also learned to speak my mind and question the beliefs I had, by opening up to different cultures, to different ways of seeing the world, understanding reality and interacting with it. I’ve been adamant about never tolerating, but rather learning, understanding and achieving empathy. I hope to continue this process throughout my life.
I’m passionate about what I believe and like to express my opinions and get my way. Here I have learned the importance of common ground and compromises. I’ve also learned that it is crucial to have fun, even in the most uncomfortable of circumstances, and these, in turn, I have learned to appreciate: these personal challenges are the ones that have resulted in my greatest growths and transformations. I hope I can put myself in positions like these often as I keep walking through life, I hope I change my mind a thousand times, I hope I learn a different way of doing things everywhere I go… Even if I’m not comfortable all the time, since I’d rather be growing and learing for most of it. I take this lesson from my experience here.
I have also learned to open my mind, which I think is very hard. I tend to come across as closed and stubborn, I guess everyone feels a little threatened when approached by new things, but the important thing is I let my surroundings change me, regardless of how I react at first (but I should probably work on that later in my life).
Here I have learned the value of friendship. How it can transcend borders. I hope in the future I can connect better with the friends I’ve made here. I hope to show them my culture and visit them in theirs.
When I go back home, I’ll be perfecting the final details of my community service, so it can take-off again in September. I hope it will be different this time, better, now that I go back after having the chance of working with an international community of amazing minds; and of hearing how so many wold leaders got to where they are today. I’ve taken the best from this, and in the future, every time I have to stand up in front of a crowd, face a new obstacle, nightmare or fear, I’ll hear Zura in my head saying “Never be scared”, and see through it.
The fact that I now know that around the world there are people who have, will and are doing great things for their communities makes me want to be a part of that crowd; knowing that they all started small, with just an idea or a hunch… makes me think that maybe one day I too, will be telling those great stories.