Liftoff

Sunghoon Kwak - India


September 3, 2017

Awareness. Mindfulness. Accountability. Perspective. Engagement. 
All words thrown around this week as we tiptoed toward the prospect of being global leaders. We used these words to fuel our curiosity while at a week-long session at Stanford. Used them to ignite the flame within our minds as we prepared to step into the unknown.
My adventure officially begins today. Cruising comfortably at high altitudes, our plane is the final obstacle between an eager high school grad and a far away land named India. Even though I feel a twinge of nervousness, residual confidence from this inspiring week is enough to push me through the hump, at least for a few more hours.
Over the past few days, I've gotten to know some of the most brightest, driven, and engaging high school graduates in the world. Hailing from countries like Slovakia, the Netherlands, China, and more, we formed an unbreakable bond over a common goal: to change the world.
In just a few days, we were able to understand just how naïve that goal was.
On our first day, we all chatted viciously. We took part in deep conversation, bought into the excitement of the coming months, and shared witty jokes amongst each other. I never felt so much at home. Our connection with each fellow was genuine and instantaneous. We all chose to be a part of this crazy journey, and the passion evoked in each fellow's conversation was apparent no matter who you interacted with.
Together, we spent just over five days at Stanford. As quick as those five days were, I felt that I had already created multiple friendships for a lifetime. 
We kicked off the week with an intro from Abby Falik and her reasoning for starting Global Citizen Year. She envisioned creating a group of global leaders. She understood that cultivating leaders took time and that a year to appreciate the world outside your own was a critical step in maturation and global awareness. Our eager minds couldn't yet swallow the pill that we weren't going to change the world through this program, but rather use the experience attained through GCY to create a platform for change. 
The next day, we were humbled by a seemingly frail and gentle man named Lee Mun Wah. He taught us of mindfulness and the importance of being a mindful listener. In the three hours we spent with Lee Mun Wah, our entire global cohort shared laughs, cries (especially cries), and struggles. There is no way to do Mr. Lee justice, so I'll leave you with something he said that resonated with me in his session:
"Don't be afraid to ask the uncomfortable questions. We're here to learn from our mistakes and the only way to do that is to have a discussion about everything, even if it means getting a little uncomfortable."
-Lee Mun Wah
On Wednesday, we split off into groups to explore the multitudes of companies surrounding the San Francisco area. I chose to delve into a budding non-profit organization called Room to Read. Although the entirety of the company was located in a small corner of a building, I felt the energy of the staff as soon as I entered the offices. A few of them shared their reasoning for working with Room to Read. Their infectious enthusiasm had me ready to pack my bags and commit 100% to the vision of R2R. The visit opened my eyes to the possibility of a future in non-profits and inspired me to maximize my year.
On Thursday, we expanded on the art of mindfulness and were given resources to deal with stressful situations from Kory O'Rourke and the GCY staff. The next time I find myself in an intimidating situation, I'll be sure to utilize some of the breathing techniques taught by Kory. The rest of this day was spent on detailing logistics, which was fine by me. I was nearing exhaustion from all the knowledge I had gained over the past few days.
On Friday, we finalized all logistical talk and prepared ourselves for departure. In the evening, we took part in the official GCY induction ceremony. This was it. In a short week, my global cohorts and I had met, bonded, and would have to say our goodbyes. 
The goodbyes stung. 
As we headed our separate ways, we felt the dread of leaving friends, but we'll manage. In just under eight months, we'll regather where we first met and share stories of struggle and triumph with one another. 
As excited I am for that moment of reconnection, I'm ready for the challenges that will emerge once I land in Pune. It's time to take what we learned and apply it to the unfamiliar. 

Sunghoon Kwak