To say the least, the experiences we have had were profound. They shook if not shattered the core of who we were and built us to be stronger people and better global citizens. But as I sit here contemplating my year in Ecuador I find myself struggling with a few questions; what does this mean, and what do I do with this?
I think these are difficult questions to answer. My experience in Ecuador was made up of people. Relationships that have tremendous value to me and I am struggling to find the balance of staying connected to those who gave me so much, while moving forward with my life. Frankly, I’m poor with distance.
Ecuadorians have this sense of being left behind by the people who they share their lives with and I always found myself in a position where I believed that wouldn’t be me. But the space between me and Ecuador is strangely evident. They would say “don’t forget us,” and while I never will forget them, I don’t know how to stay in contact with the people who gave so much to me. To be clear, it’s not for a lack of technology providing that, it's a weird sense that calling them makes me feel as though the ground has come out from underneath me. I love these people, and don’t know how to express that love in a healthy way.
I also miss Ecuador an awful lot. I miss the sense of purpose I carried most days and I feel as though I have somehow gone back to this state of being a child again; when I feel older. I struggle to fit the mold because I miss my friends, my host family, my co-teachers, and my community. I don’t know what to do. We talked about the second part of the W’ Curve, and I seem to find myself sliding down the second hill (or v if you will) into a state of uncertainty, and as I try and put up a front to the world that I know what Ecuador was and is to me. But the honest truth is I feel sad and uncertain some days. I feel, in many regards, as I did before I left for Ecuador. I question myself and who I want to be and I’m searching for answers in spaces that used to feel familiar, but are now to me, just as new as before. I don’t know where I’m going, I don’t know what the future holds, and I don’t know what Ecuador looks like in the context of my life. But I know it will always hold a special place in my heart.
When I told my story, a small portion of the issues I encountered in Ecuador and some of the cultural aspects I felt most valuable to what I hope to become the next class of Global Citizen Year Fellows; I tried to give off the impression I understand what happened, but again, the truth is I don’t. I have no idea what the lifelong repercussions of this year are and what it means for how I act and continue to think about the world in the future. Simply, and again, I don’t know. In fact, I have no clue. And while I left Ecuador with a better sense of myself, my passions, and my track for the immediate future I still feel uncertain about what this means, and my responsibility as someone who had this opportunity.
In some ways, I don’t feel as though it’s a choice anymore. I feel as it is an obligation. For those of us who chose to become fellows, we have an obligation to change the world. I don’t feel as though this year was our service, I believe it was boot camp. It was our enlistment papers into the core of people who believe that Global change is not just possible, but needed. There are too many issues that we face as a country, society, and world to not go out there and fix them. Be it working with governments, NGO’s, or whoever else I don’t feel as though we can be selfish in any way. We cannot disregard any of our experiences and perpetuate the world's problems for our own personal gain. This was our call to duty. This was our draft. This was the testing ground. Now its time to go to college, garner the skills we found ourselves without, and forge onward to write a better version of history. To positively impact the world we find ourselves in, from the ground up.
And yet, while I hold this expectation I have no idea how I will fill this responsibility. How I will serve my country and world. But I have an idea.
A year ago for my Mock Trial class, we had to write speeches. I predicated my speech on the idea that the only way to fix the rampant political division in our country, is to connect people.
What I mean by this, is to promote a better political conversation. To promote a human connection to your political opposition. To make it harder to think of the people who disagree with you as evil, as bigoted, racist, as welfare queens, and snowflakes. To attempt to fix our society by bridging the gap. As college education as a whole leans more to the left (check Pew Research Study’s data), I believe we have to grapple with the idea of a ‘principled stand’ as justification for demonizing an opposition. We have to predicate conversation on the idea that politics is not a debate with a winner a loser, it is a discussion. And while compromise does not always put us on the right side of history, it is a tool very much lacking in our current system. If someone can’t listen to their opposition on a college campus, which is supposed to promote the free exchange of ideas, because they feel as though those ideas are harmful to society, then they need to listen to the ideas, and then combat them. The First Amendment guarantees free speech, and it’s hypocritical to refuse a platform to certain types of speech (though I know and understand hate speech) with which we simply disagree. I believe strongly, with no evidence, just a gut sensation, and a pounding heart, that this is how we fix our Democracy. We simply cannot continue on this road.
Abroad I think we need to understand the effects of volunteerism and ineffective international aid. We need to be a lot more cautious with our money, and should we choose to give to the world we shouldn’t necessarily give ourselves. We should empower the people within the communities we wish to serve by giving them the resources to create the change they need, not the change that makes us feel better. I’ve grappled with this a lot, and how to have that conversation with the people who want to “save Africa” is difficult. I don’t want to demean them, I don’t want to discourage them, I want them to think more critically.
Lately, I have been reading James Comey’s new book “A Higher Loyalty.” And while I was initially drawn to the book for the perspective it promised to provide on the political events of the last few years I instead have found myself obsessed with this idea of ethical leadership, and subsequently, how that role of being as ethical of a leader as possible, plays into global citizenship. When I contemplate ineffective international aid, I see a lack of true ethical leadership and a failure of values. I see a desire to create change in the world that ‘feels good’ for those who are providing it, but serves no ‘real good’ for those on the receiving end. The book alleges that we must pledge ourselves to serve the values we all aspire to hold: honesty, modesty, and true intent.
But again, while these principles seem like answers to a better life and society; I believe that I am standing at the same impasse as before. In my experience (in Ecuador) I had come to think that I had clarity on what I wanted to do and what I believed in. But, while the values I hold seem to be more evident in my mind, more cemented in experiences I’ve had, I still find there are no real answers. In a way it’s beautiful, but it’s also something I have been grappling with for many years. I believe that seeing my life as a series of questions I have about the world, not as a series of steps I must follow, will help me chase these answers, and in turn, find more worthwhile questions. I want to chase and live the questions I have, I want to learn about societies, morality, government, and people. The book “How to Talk Like TED” pushes readers to a question, “What Makes You Sing?” and I believe now, at this moment, that I love to connect people (its part of the reason I love coffee so much). I believe it makes communities and countries stronger, and that hopefully, with the question of “How do I connect people?” I can lead the change I want to see.
In the fall I will attend St. John’s University in Queens, NYC. I’m not excited about college for a lot of the typical reasons, and I feel many people perceive this as a general lack of excitement about college. But I have been an adult in a way, therefore, many of the social aspects college will present, won’t be as new to me. I am excited to keep questioning though, and that excitement of what college has the potential to provide me, excites me. So for those of you worried about my relationship with college, your worries are appreciated, but hopefully, are allayed by reading this.
The last thing I would like to do is offer mis profundos agradecimientos. To my parents, my host-family, the California GCY Staff, Alli, Caro, Gabi, Melli, Diana, Pedro, Mama Lucia, Yuri, Steph, Global Glimpse (Brianne and Brent, Kristen and Brayan), my co-teachers, my fellow fellows, the future fellows, my US friends, my whole family, Barb, and everyone who I ever met who helped me directly or indirectly. The world is a lot smaller than we give it credit for, and I am eternally grateful to have met each and every one of you. To you my friends, family, mentors, and guides, I want to say, I wish you more than luck.
As I take the next steps forward in my life I’m sure I will face adversity, but the only lasting effect of my Global Citizen Year I know of now, is that I am well equipped to handle the challenges ahead. To follow the next parts of journey please see Jodahphotography.com/series. And again, I can’t say thank you enough.
I never say goodbye, because I believe that if we both care about each other enough, we will cross paths again someday. So… I’ll see you later everyone.
Por Última Vez… Más que suerte mis amigos,
-Joseph Cole Hansen (A.K.A: Urku Yutzu)