Continuing our series of reflections on a Global Citizen Year from around the country, we hear this time from two parents, one from Indianapolis, the other from Lexiginton, MA. In the first excerpt, Doug Balchan speaks movingly about his daughter Madeleine’e experience in Senegal as she and two other Indianapolis-based Fellows listen on. In the second, JJ Saudek discusses the transformative effect of a Global Citizen Year on her son Peter, a 2011 Fellow in Ecuador.
I’m sure you’ve all had the experience of something in your life – whether it’s a phone or a computer, or some tool – that you never knew was missing until you had it, and then you can’t imagine life without it. I think that is what Global Citizen Year has been for these three inspiring young ladies – and their entire cohort of Fellows. It has been an opportunity that they now cannot imagine their lives without.
They each left thinking about the learnings and impact the experience could have on themselves and their personal growth. But over the course of their experience, something shifted and their self-concern became concern – for the people they are with.
And it might seem like that’s a good thing. But “concern” creates distance. It allows you to keep a distance, and to remain uninvolved. But eventually, with time, as their relationships deepened, and as they began to cherish their new families – their concern disappeared.
Imagine. If every person in the world had a family – or a whole village – somewhere else in the world, who they would not dare put at risk. Who they would not dare see go without food, water, medicine, security – because they were simply a part of their family. This is what Global Citizen Year creates: the opportunity for young people to connect with and cherish what is truly our shared global family.
It is beyond thrilling to have watched Peter negotiate so many new worlds during his Global Citizen Year – from being part of a new family, working in a foreign environment, or navigating his expectations of himself. And to watch him do so in a new culture and language has made it all the more fulfilling.
Earlier this year, we had the opportunity to visit Peter’s family in Ibarra, Ecuador, and it was amazing to see his comfort, confidence and fluency in the local language and culture. Peter had studied Spanish in high school, but it finally came alive this year through his integration into his local family and community. Today, we love listening to him with his fellow Ecuador Fellows who have all committed to speak with eachother in Spanish.
Yesterday we were at a commencement ceremony for Peter’s sister’s college graduation. The speaker was Helene Gayle, the CEO of Care, and I couldn’t help but think about how differently Peter was listening to the speech – with a whole new set of experiences for relating to the global challenges and opportunities she described.
Peter has always been good at listening, observing, negotiating; but I think he now sees these skills as tools he can use deliberately to enable cross-cultural experiences and communication; and from what I’ve observed, he’s already putting them to beautiful use.
From a parent’s perspective, the structure that Global Citizen Year provides is amazing, and such a critical part of the Fellows’ learning and growth. Peter talked endlessly about his program director, and the camaraderie he felt with his fellow Fellows. He would have never had access to the amazing people, ideas and organizations he encountered this year were it not for the Global Citizen Year program and staff.
This experience and the entire Global Citizen Year team have had a huge impact on Peter’s life in the past year. From a mother’s perspective it has been a phenomenal learning experience that will undoubtedly shape the rest of his life.