I recently returned from a three week group volunteer trip sponsored by Microsoft Challenge for Change. It was a competition that I won through public voting which included strong support from the Babson community! There were many lessons that I learned from the trip.
When people heard I won the contest to go to Kenya they were excited, but also worried. Talk of terrorist threats and closing of U. S. Embassies across North Africa didn’t do much to calm their concerns, but I was confident that things would go smoothly. On our second day of travel, we arrived in Nairobi – to an airport that was engulfed in flames. No one knew what was going on and we remained trapped on the plane stuck on the runway for a few hours. Thankfully, after a few hours we were brought through a makeshift customs and baggage claim in a cargo facility and it was there that we learned that the fire was due to electrical issues. But what a way to start the trip!
While in Kenya I was able to take away several important lessons. Here are ten of my favorites:
1) Be Flexible. In Kenya I didn’t have as much control over daily life, so I had to go with the flow. Car breakdowns, schedule changes, weather issues, and new opportunities required adaptability and flexibilty.
2) Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable. Not many people want to leave behind technology, electricity, running water, or the comforts of home, but in order to adjust you need to allow yourself to get used to something uncomfortable until it becomes more natural.
3) Smile and Say Hello. It’s amazing how far a smile can go. Just smiling at someone or waving hello (even if you can’t speak their language) shows that you care and are acknowledging them.
4) Say Thank You. Even the simplest exchanges of thank yous with the locals for their help showed appreciation and built relationships.
5) Be Adventurous. There are so many opportunities to learn and make memories. Whether running across the Kenyan plains or going on an African safari, I enjoyed and learned something from the experience of each adventure.
6) Be Open to New Friends. By expanding my horizons and being open to new and different people, I was able to meet and learn from some extraordinary and amazing individuals.
7) Challenge Yourself. In Kenya we were challenged to fully experience local daily life. This included completing difficult daily chores such as carrying large water jugs long distances, and working to build a school without modern tools or equipment. These challenges provided a greater understanding and made it even more worthwhile.
8) Enrich Your Cultural Awareness. The culture in Kenya is vastly different than anything I have had the opportunity to experience in the United States. From dress to food to customs and lifestyle, I feel that I returned with greater insight and cultural awareness and a more open and receptive mind to different cultures.
9) Appreciate Education. Education seems to be one of the most highly valued opportunities in developing countries like Kenya. It is also often one of the things most taken for granted in places like the US. From my trip I was able to develop a renewed appreciation for the value of education.
10) Happiness. The people in Kenya focus more on what they do have, what is going well, and the people in their lives. In the US people often think more of what they don’t have or what isn’t going well. The Kenyan approach certainly translates into a more positive outlook in many ways.
Kenya provided so many valuable learning opportunities that I hope to build upon while back at Babson. I highly recommend international service learning experiences and strongly encourage students to investigate the wide range of choices available through Babson.
Thanks again to everyone who helped support and send me on this adventure!
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