Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cross-Cultural Experiences Essay for Peace Corps

In some senses, for me the unfamiliar is familiar. By the time I started college in 1994, I had lived in 15 homes in 6 states and one foreign country. At the age of 8 while living in Saudi Arabia, I knew my parents could be executed for hosting Mass in our home. At 10, I was making friends 7,000 miles away in Minnesota. At 12, fascinated locals on the streets of Bangkok would touch my white-blond hair as I passed. At 17, I was adjusting to the language and customs of my host family while on an immersion exchange in Germany. In my life, place had become both a driving force and a blurry backdrop.

So when I moved to DC for law school and decided to put down roots, I was in unfamiliar territory. Not only was it my first experience with geographic permanency, it was my first time living in a city, fully supporting myself economically, and trying to make it in a new and uncertain career. I quickly found that the skills I had relied upon to deal with perpetual upheaval growing up – keeping a journal every night to remain in touch with myself, nurturing my passion for ballet, copious correspondence with cousins and friends – were suddenly inadequate.

Faced with the unknown, I began the journey within. Over the next few years, through a painful but wondrous process of self examination, I discovered intimacy with myself, and with others. In my heart, I found horizons broader than those of any globe. I found freedom and power in knowing myself and owning my beliefs. I found the courage to accept myself, to face my mistakes, and to build long-term commitments to people. I found peace and joy, and began to discover miracles all around me. I finally felt I belonged in the world I had seen so much of.

I found strength in these newfound inner resources. Burdened with massive student loans, I worked long hours at unfulfilling work but found endless enrichment in the connections I made there. I fought for balance by nurturing my dreams: I danced and sang, volunteered, traveled whenever I could, and discovered a new love of photography. To build for the future, I bought a condo in a transitional neighborhood. I was mugged 3 months later, but came through the experience empowered, my faith in humanity intact, easily trusting another stranger a few months later to escort me to safety.

They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I believe it’s not what makes you stronger that matters, but what broadens your capacity to love. My nomadic life taught me to see beyond superficialities and accept people of all races and cultures. Being rooted has given me the tools to connect without losing sight of uniqueness. I have come to truly understand in my heart, in the words of R.W. Emerson, that “What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.”

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