Reflecting on my time abroad with SalusWorld, my mind wanders to the many incredible people who contributed to my experience. From those who supported my decision to those I met along the way. The people I met working for Salus helped me so much more than I could have ever helped them it is astonishing. With an intention of wanting to help, this can be difficult to sit with, but it is exactly what happened.
Today I stand braver, more confident, and grounded than the day I left. I attribute part of this to a decision of mindfulness and awareness. Before departing for Southeast Asia, I chose to carry a saying from a yoga class that spoke to me – “Learn to be comfortable when you are uncomfortable. “ I asked myself to sit with any feelings of fear, anger, or angst in a non-judgmental way and look deeper at why they were present. I discovered I had choices, and I leaned how a simple shift in perspective could profoundly change an experience.
My history and involvement with SalusWorld is unique. As SalusWorld’s first intern, I chose to take a year between earning a Masters in Forensic Psychology and pursuing a doctoral program to learn about international psychology. From the moment met I Elaine and listened to Gwen present on her international experiences, I wanted work beside them. Determined and eager to learn, they welcomed me into their staff meetings. I did my best to help with what I could, but conceptualizing their Southeast Asia projects from Denver was difficult for me. As I learned about the organizational structure, inner workings, and hurdles of running a non-profit, I set a goal of also learning about SalusWorld in the field.
An exciting and unexpected opportunity came about in October of 2011. I had time to go to Southeast Asia, shadow our professional consultants and work with our local teams. Gwen and Elaine gave me their blessing and sent me on my way… For the first time I would be traveling not a backpacker but as a professional representing an organization I felt connected to. This was exciting, frightening, and liberating all tangled into one.
For a month I lived in Northern Thailand with consultant Mykell Winterowd. She explained everything she could to me about the Fortune Mental Health Team- from the development of program, to the roles of different members, to the struggles and successes of the team. I feel I had it easy because she was there to answer my thousands of questions in English. I didn’t have to sit with them and speculate what as going on. This being her fourth visit, she understood the team better than I ever could in a month and bridged their trust in me. Within days, the community had accepted me and I felt like I’d been there before.
I discovered my love for teaching during this time. I was asked by a community leader to teach English to small group of high school students. Much to my surprise, my classes grew with children yearning to learn. The more time I spent with them, the more connected I felt connected to the community. Together my students and I learned to work with one another. They began to trust the classroom environment and take risks. They spoke up in class, participated in group activities, and encouraged brainstorming fun ways to encourage learning. As I watched them smile, I realized they were helping me much more than I ever could them. These children taught me to believe in myself and to look at myself through a different lens. From this experience, I gained confidence, compassion, and love for my inner being.
After Thailand, I traveled to Burma for Eda Spielman’s training. I’d met Eda briefly when she come to Boulder for her pre-departure training, but I had no idea another incredible friendship would develop from my time with her. As I listened to her present and soaked in differences our two projects, I couldn’t help but be humbled by the experience. After living in a community that spoke very little English and trying to understand their culture, I was sitting in a room with Burmese professionals who could explain, process, and reflect on their life with the information Eda gave them.
Every single person I met welcomed me to the group like I was family. I developed a great friendship with a young woman who guided me around Yangon, explaining Burmese traditions, religious beliefs, and different ways of life to me with patience. She invited me into her home, where over dinner with her sister, roommates, and close friends we shared enlightening conversations and laughter. I remember it as authentic and real. As a group of young, liberal minded adults, we discussed current events, controversial issues and shared perspectives on one another’s cultural differences. I left dinner that evening with new friends and a very unique understanding of life inside Burma.
I believe I am a better version of me having gained this experience… AND I am excited to share that I will be returning at the end of the month!! Thanks to Mary’s generous donation combined with Gwen and Elaine’s belief in me, I am going back to run a program I developed after teaching English in Waing Wai. There is no greater gift that being able to learn about my field from exceptional mentors, being encouraged and trusted by those you look up to, and knowing that the community you are going back too looks forward to your return. I am eternally grateful for everyone who has supported my unique approach to finding a career and for the experiences still to come. I strive to never sit where I am only comfortable and to always be growing.