Parent Post: “We All Have Our Comfort Zones”

By Mike Hess, Father of GCY Fellow in Senegal

Most of us have comfort zones; modes of living our lives in which we feel safe, and in which tomorrow is, if not completely knowable, then at least reasonably predictable. We instinctively feel more at ease when we imagine we have control over our surroundings.

Yet these comfort zones can restrict and mislead us.

By lounging too comfortably within them, we leave ourselves unprepared for the day when the outside world inevitably comes knocking at the door. Sometimes it will arrive bearing flowers, but sometimes it will push its way in uninvited, put its feet up on the coffee table, and light up a foul-smelling cigar.

By the same token, in failing to look beyond the fences we’ve built around the fields we know, we risk never fully knowing ourselves.

Global Citizen Year, the brainchild of Abby Falik, is an organization dedicated to taking young people out of their comfort zones and preparing them to be leaders in a world where the opposite side of the globe is a mere Tweet away.

Abby’s vision is to encourage a new generation of leadership, with a better understanding of the world out there; a world that is changing and shrinking daily. It’s a worthy vision, because if our strategies for dealing with the world do not change as the world changes, we may as well base our plans on a groundhog’s shadow.

The Global Citizen Year program emphasizes the concept of a “bridge year;” a year taken between leaving high school and starting college, during which a student has an opportunity not only to learn some extraordinary things, but to accomplish some extraordinary things as well.

When my daughter Emily first brought the program to my attention during her senior year at Warren Central High School, I was dismayed. Though I was excited for her, the cost seemed prohibitive.

I need not have worried. The program offers grants and scholarships that made the cost to my family almost nothing. I did not need to make a choice between being able to buy groceries and being able to give my daughter this amazing opportunity.

Thanks to substantial financial aid, made possible by both private and corporate contributors, Emily is currently in Senegal, West Africa, teaching English to adults and children alike. She has been there since October of last year, and will not come home until May.

Whenever I describe the program to another parent, I get two responses, usually in rapid fire succession and sometimes in differing order: “You must be really proud!” and “You must be really terrified!”

My response to the first is easy. Of course I’m proud. I can barely contain how proud I am of her. In fact, you might want to duck because I may well explode.

The second comment is not as easy to address. The day she was born, I followed her around the waiting room, holding my hands under her in fear that someone might fumble her as she was passed from relative to relative. Even my own parents, veterans of an army of children and grandchildren, were not fully trusted to handle my precious new-born baby girl.

Now, a mere eighteen years later, she’s thousands of miles away, in a foreign country I was barely aware of before she went there, riding a bus with a wooden floor that’s carrying people and chickens alike.

Of course I’m terrified. But with that fear comes the knowledge that I can’t provide a safety net for her forever. She has to take her own risks in order to be her own person and develop her own potential.

In any case, any time I feel afraid for her, I take inspiration from her. I think back on the day at the airport as she boarded the plane for San Francisco, where her Global Citizen Year training was to take place.

She was terrified. Who wouldn’t be? But courage isn’t a lack of fear. Lack of fear merely implies a lack of imagination. True courage is being afraid and continuing on despite that fear. And that’s precisely what she did. She boarded that plane and took a huge step into her future.

Benjamin Franklin once said “To be thrown upon one’s own resources is to be cast into the very lap of fortune: for our faculties then undergo a development and display an energy of which they were previously unsusceptible.”

That Mister Franklin sure knew what he was talking about. Today Emily faces and overcomes daily struggles that most of us can scarcely imagine, and even from thousands of miles away through the tenuous connections of Skype, texting, and Facebook, I can feel her growing and maturing.

In doing so, she is learning to understand a culture which, though it bears many important similarities to our own, also has its own unique flavors and aspirations. In the process, she’s also learning a lot about herself and gaining a confidence in her own abilities that she might never otherwise have had the opportunity to develop.

This week, just ahead of the March 1st GCY recruitment deadline, Abby Falik is in Indianapolis the for the purpose of raising funds and awareness of her program. I would urge every high school senior to check out the GCY program at en.globalcitizenyear.org, and I would urge their parents to do the same.

I would also urge financial supporters to continue supporting this worthy program. It is an investment in the futures of the participants in the program, and also an investment in our nation’s future as a global leader.

(See the published version in the IndyStar here.)