Transformative Experience

I told myself before I came here that it was going to be a “transformative experience”.  I did not know what I meant, but the words sounded good and I hoped that there would be truth to it.  I envisioned positive changes within myself as I engaged with the world and had new experiences.  I saw myself becoming better able to deal with real world situations.  I believed my passion to fight against injustices and oppression would be further ignited. I was to build my leadership skills and return to the United States with a stronger self-identity and a clearer sense of my future.

Now, after living in Cape Town, South Africa for five months I feel right at home here and I don’t want to leave.  I have continued to learn about development on a micro, mezzo, and macro level and my passion for social justice is stronger than ever. The life I have found is extraordinary and the friends I have made are beautiful.

This experience has forever changed my life. It is one thing to watch the news and catch a glimpse of the headlines that seem to be stuck on repeat and it is something completely else to put a face, a name, and a personality to the suffering.  To walk through the township of someone living in extreme poverty and to hear the stories of someone living with AIDS changes my perspective entirely.  To hear the stories of those who work and truly co-create positive changes for those struggling to obtain their basic needs also has an immense impact.

After this semester meeting those struggling and those struggling to help I have been greatly inspired.  Witnessing the energy being utilized to help others gives me more energy then I know what to do with at this time. It is through education and a passion to become aware that will ultimately lead me to where I need to be.

The world is growing smaller and smaller and its resources are in great decline. It is no longer an option to ignore how our own lifestyles impact others. Before, we lived our lives in the U.S. without seeing how our consumption of goods and resources is causing so much pain and suffering to others, but if we want to continue to have the freedom and access to not only luxuries, but needs we must start working to save them.

Let me be clear. The United States of America contributes enormous amounts of money and resources to others, but there must also be a change in our own lifestyles to live more responsibly. Nothing on this earth is truly ours so we must stop prancing around like it is.

Just after five months I have a much clearer vision of what I can do. I have more confidence in what I can contribute and the essential energy needed to work through what appears to be impossible challenges.  I think we all strive to contribute, but the task seems to be so daunting on the outset that we are paralyzed.  The fact is it only takes awareness and the application of your own energy and talents to be creative in the process towards the relief of another.

I have also learned lessons such as the importance of being fiscally responsible and I have identified areas in my life that need continued work such as my lack of patience. It is stereotypically American to want it all and to want it all yesterday, but I have seen where patience pays off.  My work in these areas will continue.

So here I am at the end of my journey and at the start of another. I will keep the lessons that I have learned at the forefront as I continue to walk through life. I was brought to my senses in so many ways this year.

I am forever grateful to Marquette University, South Africa, and my family for giving me such an experience. I cannot put into words how much the people I have met have meant to me. I have fallen in love with South Africa and I see a long-term relationship in the future.

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~ by Austin on June 14, 2010.

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