I’ve Bought In

Madeleine Balchan - Senegal


October 4, 2010

“So what is the US Training Institute?” Over the summer as friends asked me to explain GCY’s plan for these two weeks in San Francisco, I gave vague answers like “team building” or “understanding GCY as an organization and their goals”. My guesses adequately described the first few days. They came short of articulating the thought-provoking support we’ve received since we switched from community building to real preparation.

Since the first day, our group has succeeded in creating an open community free of judgment. We are diverse not only in economic, religious, and regional backgrounds, but also in thought and ideas. Through team building challenges like the high-ropes course and our Outward Bound camping adventure, we developed trust.

We also learned, as Josh said, “This is not about me. It’s much bigger than that.” Abby Falik, founder of GCY, showed us her vision and where we fit into her dream of a movement. We all became infected with the goal of one day having bridge years be the norm in our society.

I assumed the fun and games would continue until our departure (they did, but in more productive ways). Then I spent three hours understanding a piece of Thomas Hobbes for a debate/discussion on Negative Freedom, Positive Freedom, and Relativistic Freedom.  The intellectual stimulation didn’t stop there. Professor David Abernathy talked to us about Global Development, its effects, and whether or not it’s a good thing. We spoke with people across sectors about their roles in development, from Twitter to Kiva, Global Health workers to impact investors. We talked about the importance of community ownership in any projects we help support, in order to maintain sustainability after we leave. We even had sessions on storytelling and blogging. Unlike most of high school, the lessons we gleaned were pertinent to our immediate future.

More than learning things, the US Training Institute has inspired me to question things: How can I balance optimism and idealism with realism? Perhaps in 7 months I’ll have some answers, but something tells me I’ll end with more questions.

Madeleine Balchan