I cannot believe I've been home for nearly two weeks. The landscape of Belfast's city centre had become more familiar than the Los Angeles skyline, but I sighed contentfully at the sight of the palm tree-lined grid of streets and the jam-packed freeway lanes. I had already indulged in a McDonald's cone at the Newark airport (they must use a different formula in the UK!) and now all that was left to be desired was my bed. Of course I was excited to see my mom and let her kiss me alot, but after that all you really want after a 24-hour travel day is a warm shower and BED. Wish granted at approximately 9pm PT!
And then I woke up at 2pm...Belfast time. It took a few days to adjust, but you'll be relieved to know I am not waking up with the sun anymore.
Over the past several days, I've tried to explain many things to family and friends, including DukeEngage, Northern Ireland, the Troubles, my role at Lisburn PSP. All of these have come to mean so much to me that sometimes I can't find the right words to represent them wholely. However, one of the most challenging questions came from my incredibly perceptive and intelligent grandfather, who asked, "In what way were you, as American students, able to contribute where you were working?" This is certainly a question with which I wrestled throughout the program. Sometimes I was concerned that I was gaining more from the experience than I was giving in return. What I learned is that for many people, it is natural to identify needs that can be filled, but it is more challenging to step back, soak up the environment, listen to people, and learn by following. Following?! Yes, a long-lost art among overachieving, motivated college students, but it seems to me a skill for true service that is equally important to leading.
Leadership + followership = service.
After you recover from being awestruck by my profound equation for service, I will tell you something else I learned. From working with the people at Lisburn PSP and the community centre, I saw firsthand that people sustain energy for a project or cause in which they are truly invested. Today, the "trend" seems to be international service, which I am not trying to discourage by any means. But we also need to remember that our greatest value often lies in what we know. We have the most significant working knowledge about the communities where we've spent the most time and the people with whom we have formed relationships. It's interesting that my international DukeEngage experience taught me the importance of looking closer to home for ways to transform my skills and knowledge into action.
My sincere endeavor now is to keep my eyes and ears open. There's a lot of world outside of Duke University and it not's separate from us. We are part of the world. Just tonight, NBC aired a Dateline special with Ann Curry, entitled "America Now - Friends & Neighbors," which focused on a town in southeastern Ohio and the severe poverty that has been intensified by the recession of the past few years. (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38382773/ns/dateline_nbc-america_now) There are few adults who are lucky enough to obtain a mininum-wage job because company after company has gone under. Fourteen people living in 4 rooms, children sleeping on the floor, parents going hungry for days to feed their kids, local food banks nearly closing due to funding withdrawal -- all of this within a few miles of people who singlehandedly could afford to support several of these families with money they wouldn't feel missing from their bank accounts. This is America. And the uppercrust which has no personal experience with this kind of poverty is the smallest minority in the world.
So, whoever you are and wherever you are, keep thinking, listening, and (when appropriate) acting.