In May of 2017, I left the United States for the first time.
“It’s your maiden voyage!” someone said to me.
It has become a cliché for a Westerner to travel to a developing country and return with a profound insight into their own privilege and what they take for granted. Because of the number of blogs and talks I had heard on the subject, I believed I had somehow evolved past that cliché before actually leaving the country myself.
I traveled to Myanmar to serve The DeBoer Fellowship. The Fellowship is a program built to help “Myanmar citizen leaders to reach their potential and better serve their organizations, communities, and country.”
The Fellows’ backgrounds and work vary widely, but it only took the first one I met (a man named Zaw) to realize I was not in average company. On our flight together, Zaw told me of his work with refugees displaced by the country’s long-running civil war, and his role in helping them find safety and stability.
Over the next week, I was able to meet over 40 more Fellows and alumni and hear their stories – each one humbling me more than the last.
This humility didn’t stem from the fact that I was often the only one in the room without a Masters degree or my own business or organization, surprisingly.
What struck me the most about these men and women I met in Myanmar was not their accomplishments, but the heart and devotion toward positive change that they carried with them.
What these Fellows lacked, and a privilege I began to realize, was the mindset that “someone else will take care of it.”
I am not saying that everyone in the United States has this attitude and that no one in Myanmar does, but I was able to recognize it in parts of my own life.
There was something especially impactful about seeing it in the hearts of the Fellows as their country is in such a pivotal stage in its development. Seeing their love for their fellow man, and their urgency to serve them, sent me back to the States with a renewed energy and view of the stakes.
There are countless organizations and movements that someone else will have to take care of, based purely off the laws of time and space, but if we truly want to see our communities transformed, we need to continuously be asking ourselves, “What am I doing with the time that I have?”
Someone else doing the work serving our community shouldn’t be seen as an excuse to sleep in, but as an opportunity to put forth our own efforts and to collaborate and build off each other’s energy.
That is when whole communities flourish.
… and if you are traveling to another country for the first time, don’t overthink it. Study the culture, but let the individuals you meet be free of preconceptions. Leave your expectations behind and let the country show itself to you.