A roar of applause erupted. The lights flickered on. The projector was turned off. We all stood up and as was expected many began to shed tears. Fellows embraced each other with forceful grasps. As if letting go would allow this experience to pass.
For fifty-four Fellows, eight months of curiosity, struggle, persistence, and triumph had been encapsulated in the few short hours allotted for Fellow presentations. The forms used to present these experiences: video, podcast, song, role-play, dance, and speech. The emotions they encompassed: fear, adoration, pride, resilience, and camaraderie. As a Fellow last year this environment was a familiar one. Yet it was no less poignant, no less emotional, no less…well, tear jerking.
The general impression one gets of Global Citizen Year, from the website and the staff, is of a program that provides young adults with a global perspective by facilitating immersive experiences in the developing world and fostering a collaborative, support-based structure that allows Fellows to unlock their potential.
To be fair, that is correct, but these goals fall under a larger umbrella – that of building relationships. That is the unmovable core that grounds the experiences Fellows undergo.
While I have no doubt that their work was meaningful and often enjoyable, I heard few Fellows long to return to community assessment forms, lesson plans for English class, or soccer field maintenance via machete. It was recollections of the host family that elicited the most nostalgia and often the most tears. On the broad spectrum of struggles endured, it was those within the family that brought about the most contentious hardships. It was the relationships that induced the loudest screams of revelry, the most defeated sighs of frustration, and the most numerous tears of joy…and sorrow.
Relationships formed among fellows, staff, host families, community members and combinations of the above are the driving force behind these emotions. Relationships forged through the lens of immersion, reflection, analysis, and introspection create powerful bonds. When one believes these bonds are dissolving – as was the case on this night – it is gut wrenching.
The question I was asked most frequently that week, often posed with a hint of fear, and well out of earshot of other the Fellows was: “Are you still friends with the fellows in your class?” This group-wide concern further reassured me how vital these relationships are. A year after I bid goodbye to my cohort, I was proud to give a resounding “yes.”
The foundation for these cross-cultural journeys is relationships. The ties formed and the community created does not collapse when Fellows return home. In fact it grows stronger like a tree: as its branches extend and its leaves flourish, its roots also deepen.
I was reminded this past week that I am still part of the community I was able to build with Global Citizen Year. I realized that it was this community I felt most connected to – a connection made strong by a structure whose core is just that…community.
For fifty-four Fellows, a year abroad has come to a close with the same anguish, anxiety, and uncertainty that mine did. But I walked away from this farewell differently than I did last year. I came not to dread the goodbye hugs but to appreciate them. I now know not to look on woefully as Fellows embrace one another and cry, but to understand that those falling tears are manifestations of bonds that mean so much, bonds that will endure.