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Now back on U.S. soil, I’ve used the last few days to decompress and to reflect heavily on our trip to South Africa. As expected, I’ve had many people ask me how my time in Africa was and what it was we did there. Even now I find it hard to find better words than “awesome” and “amazing” to describe the experience, because that’s exactly all it was. I usually say we did volunteer community work, when in fact to us it wasn’t really “work” at all. It is difficult to put into words what we accomplished in those three weeks, just because each day was filled with new experiences and different possibilities. There were few, if any, dull moments from our experience in South Africa. Truthfully, I didn’t think I would miss it this much. I think about the people, the conversations, the kids, and all the hard work we put in constantly and I miss it very much.

“The number one thing this experience has given me is perspective. I believe this to be one of the most important qualities (if not the most important quality) to have in order to be a good traveler, coworker, teammate, partner, and basically any other role you can think of. Perspective gifts cohesiveness, empathy, and understanding.”

In my past blog posts I’ve spoken about my experience teaching the game of rugby to the children. I would say that portion of the experience has left the biggest impact on me and is also the most humbling moment. There is one specific instance where I was watching the kids play a full on game of rugby and I thought to myself, “I’m going to remember this forever.” And I will. I stood on the uneven grass field behind the school and watched the kids run and play and yell at each other with words I didn’t understand; I didn’t have to understand to know they were having fun. This moment was the fruit of our work. I could see their improvement. I am humbled because I myself hadn’t had fun like that in a long time. All caught up in school and sport in the U.S., I had to go all the way to South Africa to realize how easy it was to pick up a ball with your friends and run with it.

The number one thing this experience has given me is perspective. I believe this to be one of the most important qualities (if not the most important quality) to have in order to be a good traveler, coworker, teammate, partner, and basically any other role you can think of. Perspective gifts cohesiveness, empathy, and understanding. Not only gaining perspective, but changing perspective as well. This is what I plan on bringing back to my team and community. We all came in with the perspective of a Westerner and I’m positive none of us left the same way. Describing what exactly was gained or changed is again, not an easy task and can be summed up with a simple, “you had to be there”—  and I am so happy I was.

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