I have been given some of the most humbling opportunities and experiences traveling outside of the country to do humanitarian work and further my training in ballet. With each trip, I have gained a deeper understanding and knowledge of the world around me and the people that live on it. I’ve become more cultured and come to learn the true necessities of life: love, humility, kindness, and a service-oriented heart. Materialistic things do not give us these true emotions of joy that we all so seek. I am grateful for what I have learned and continue to learn from my many friends around the world.
During the summer of 2016, I spent my time in Prague dancing and training in ballet. I lived there for a month dancing each day from 9 to 5. I lived on a diet of pasta and gelato! It was overall a great trip, but what I took away from this beautiful city was much more than a love of great food and sightseeing. I learned about human nature. I learned that hard work and discipline means much more than where you come from or what you do. You get out what you put in and hard work always pays off whether in providing new and exciting opportunities, bettering your craft or even yourself as a person.
I also learned about acceptance. We are all human beings. We all have to go through this life together and life is really hard. There is no reason to make it harder for someone than it really needs to be. Throughout my trip in Prague, I met people from all walks of life. Those who were of different races, genders, sexualities, lifestyles, religions, etc.
Almost all of the restrooms in Prague were non-gendered. I never once felt unsafe or uncomfortable. I was happy that everyone was included and had a place they could feel like they belonged. The uniqueness of each individual intrigued me. Humans are fascinating. We are all made of essentially the same material. We all have similar DNA. And yet, we are all exactly ourselves and exactly who we are supposed to be.
I was lucky enough to visit Vietnam twice at the age of 14 and 18. My family and I served in the orphanages by providing hygiene kits, clothing, toys, helping build the facilities, giving out bikes and interacting with the children. The love I felt in these orphanages is indescribable. Upon walking into the room I immediately knew I was appreciated, looked up to, and a friend. The children were so happy even in their horrific circumstances. We played games, danced, sang, tried our very best to converse and just enjoyed each others company.
I met the sweetest little girl at the first orphanage I visited during my first trip to Vietnam. We connected immediately. After handing out kits, clothing, and toys to all of the girls, she took me to the room she shared with twenty other girls. She walked me to her bed that had no mattress and took out a cardboard box from underneath her bed that held 3 pieces of handmade jewelry that she was incredibly proud of. She gifted me with one of the pieces of jewelry that she held so dear in an effort to thank me for my kindness to her. My heart has never been so full. This is a memory and bracelet that I will cherish forever. I still wear it to this day.
I also enjoyed the experience I had to visit a trade school for those with disabilities and special needs. To see all of their hard work learning and training in new skills despite the obstacles they faced was heart-wrenchingly beautiful. Their graciousness and gratitude for the things we had provided them gave me such a joy to know that I could give them the necessities they so desired. I’ve never experienced such a feeling of pure empathy.
The two Christmases spent in Mexico with my family were the most impactful trips of my life thus far. My family and I had the opportunity to build homes for families in need to allow those parents the opportunity to give their children a bed to sleep in and a roof over their heads. I saw children living in cardboard boxes and under tarps, met people who have never had a warm shower in their lives, and experienced the hardships of those around me. It was hard, but I’ve never felt such gratitude.
The first family we built a house for had seven children, most of whom were adopted. Due to inclement weather, we were a few days behind and had to make up for the lost time by waking up early and heading straight to the site each day. We worked all day only taking breaks for lunch and dinner, leaving most nights around 11 p.m.
I remember one really difficult night when it rained hard for 12 hours. We couldn’t stop for even a second otherwise the home we had worked so hard to build would flood because we had not yet set the roof. We spent the entire day and night sweeping water out of the facility, latching on the roof and continuing to build so we would have a finished home to present this family. It was excruciating, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. To see the faces of each family member upon receiving their new home was priceless. It made all of the hard work worth it. I clearly remember the mother climbing up on the roof to touch the shingles. She wept, she had never had a roof before. We were able to give her that. It filled my heart with complete humility.
These experiences have made me the person I am today. They have allowed me to realize that true happiness comes from love, acceptance, and doing what you can to make the lives of those around you a little bit better. I implore each of you to do what you can to go out of your way to help those around you in every aspect you can. Life should be lived every day in a content state of service.
Have you had the opportunity to travel either for leisure or service? I would love to hear what you’ve learned in the comments below.