I honestly cannot believe I am here…And, what is most exciting about that is that I mean that in a genuinely positive way! Normally by the end of a term (as Joanne might be able to attest to from last term), I am uttering the words “I cannot believe I am here…again” because I have screwed myself into a position of having to fight for my life. The interesting thing about that is that I am, in a way, fighting for my life right now, vying for that final TWO per cent! But, this time I seem to have a much better handle on it. There is a pure sense of calm about what I need to do to pull myself out of this hole that I dug for myself because I am beginning to learn what it feels like to truly believe in what I am doing, and more importantly, in myself.
Joanne often asks, ‘What are you doing here?,’ ‘What does Beyond Borders mean to you?’ ; questions that have always provoked a lot of anxiety within me. Reflecting back on these questions, I begin to wonder why on earth I don’t seem to get that familiar feeling of panic, and I believe that it has a lot, in part, to do with our last Beyond Borders class. When Joanne asked us to reflect on how much we’ve changed since the beginning of September, I wracked my brain trying to figure out how I had changed. I KNOW that I changed, but for some reason, I couldn’t pin point just how it happened. When Dave spoke up, bravely admitting that he had no idea, I could not have breathed a bigger sigh of relief! I had no idea, either!! I mean, like I said, and also mirroring the responses given by my fellow BB peers, I know that something has changed, but a lot of it still seems quite confusing.
This past weekend I had a wonderful opportunity to really tease out those confusing aspects of change, mostly because I was home with my family. I’ve learned over the past eight months that my family is a true source of balance and stability in my life (no matter how crazy and frustrating they can make you feel!), so being at home definitely helps to put things into perspective. Also, having been with them so seldom in the past eight months has enabled me to gain perspective into how I have changed and in what ways. From my time spent with them, I have been able to recognize the ways I have changed in my confidence: I have found myself learning more about myself because I am actually allowing myself to be, well, me! Acting silly (i.e. dancing crazy and awkwardly, singing in funny voices), not thinking twice before making a joke – which makes jokes much funnier – and telling stories, dramatic or not, and believe in the worth of the stories I have to tell, are all examples of how I’ve noticed change within myself.
You might be wondering how on earth that remotely applies to the changes I’ve experienced from my Beyond Borders journey, and how these changes will apply as my BB journey continues. Well, because of Beyond Borders, I was able to recognize that putting myself off – that is, putting off working out the kinks in my skewed views of myself and my lack of belief in my abilities – was not something I could even consider any longer. When I was interviewed by Joanne and Elyse almost a whole year ago, I stated that I desperately wanted to help others, and that still holds complete and utter truth. But what I failed to realized was that helping other people is only effective when you know how to help yourself, first. Therefore, in order for me to get anything from this experience, I would have to first help myself.
What was different about this realization was that I actually had to put it into practice! As I told Joanne in a meeting with her, I know exactly how to play myself. I know what to tell myself to feel like I’ve accomplished something, to give myself the false feeling of productivity in order to take the stress of responsibility off of me. Instead, this time, because of my desperate need to fulfill this experience through Beyond Borders, I’ve been left with no other alternative than to carry out the changes I’ve been avoiding for so long. I’ve also begun to recognize that I believed taking part in an incredible experience such as Beyond Borders would make those changes for me. This is an extremely important admittance because it’s crucial that I have clear and reasonable expectations of this experience; so recognizing that part of what I was hoping to achieve from completing this experience was a better sense of who I am, I am able to redirect my expectations. That is not to say that expecting to come out of this a changed person is an unreasonable expectation; however the level of change and personal growth I must accomplish goes far beyond the scope of this program, not to mention the fact that it puts me at considerable risk, mentally, emotionally, psychologically, and perhaps physically.
One thing that I am considering as I write this comes to me from our last class a week ago: I believe it was Cat (or maybe it was Jacqueline?) who said that she was surprised that at how much these two semesters changed her; how much of an impact these two classes have had on her, which she wasn’t expecting. I can attest to this statement. I have been putting so much emphasis on the experience abroad that I have been ignoring the transformations that I’ve been going through over these past eight months. While it is a shame that I was not able to realize them as they were happening, perhaps this is the way it is supposed to be. And judging by Joanne’s responses to our apprehensive wonderings about how much we’ve changed, this is the way that many students experience their growth. This makes me feel a lot more confident about my progress thus far, and the progress I continue to make.
Beyond Borders means the absolute world to me. I’ve always gushed to others about the program (so much so that I believe I’ve recruited a couple for next year’s cohort), but I was always coming from a place of expected transformation. Now that I am aware of the changes that have already taken place (my increased confidence in myself and my abilities, my recognition of the time and effort I must put into myself to get to where I know I can be, and the belief in the difference I can make in other people’s lives, which has come directly from my brief yet life-changing volunteer experience), I know and accept that the transformation has already begun. I am forever grateful to this program for that. I always believed that this program came to me through some act of fate or destiny. At the time, and up until a few weeks ago, I believed it came to me because it was the opportunity I was looking for to help others in the way I’ve wanted to for countless years; now I believe that it came to me as part of my destiny, it was brought to me by fate, but because it is what ignited the drive within me to change myself for the better. I have already watched my relationships (old and new) blossom before my eyes because of the changes I’ve made, and I can only imagine and cannot wait to see what’s in store for me over the next few months leading up to my time abroad. I am on my way to being ready, and I have true and genuine confidence in myself. I’ve never felt like this before, and I am holding on to it for dear life: mine life, and the lives of the men, women, and children I am going to be serving in the fall. Regardless how emotionally trying these past eight months have been, I certainly would not change one minuscule detail, because they’ve brought me to this point, and I can see a light shinning brighter than ever at the end of this long dark tunnel.
Thank you to the Beyond Borders program, and this year’s group, and most importantly to Joanne. You’ve all given me an opportunity I’d all but given up on. You’ve made me realize that I am more than what I tell myself I am, which is something that I believed to be all in my head and never to be acted out. But I am getting there, and it is THE MOST deliriously exciting thing I’ve EVER experienced. I am SO ready.