Not Just Another Month

When the calendar rolled over to May this year, I knew I’d be spending more than a few nights away from my pillow. For months I had been committed to facilitate both the campus session of LeaderShape for Central Michigan University and The Journey: Delta Sigma Phi. While I anticipated the typical facilitator experiences – meeting new friends, creating new memories, and developing new methods to avoid camp food – in no way was I prepared for the amount of personal growth and learning I was about to experience for myself.

I was also unprepared for how hard it would be to have no pizza.
I was also unprepared for how hard it would be to have no pizza.

Saying yes to LeaderShape was a no-brainer. After serving as the Program Coordinator for last year’s AFLV West Coast session at UCLA, I had been dying to dive into the curriculum to connect deeply with my own group of students. Not only did LeaderShape provide me the chance to facilitate an eye-opening and life-changing experience for the students I encountered, it helped open my eyes to my passion for higher education and student leader development.

Challenging students to discover their vision was a highlight of the week.
Challenging students to discover their vision was a highlight of the week.

I could probably fill pages about what I learned from each of the individuals I encountered that week, but a quick summary will have to do. The importance of discovering your vision early in life can help shape the direction of where you’re headed. LeaderShape is designed to help students identify their core values and to create a vision that will aid in making the world a just, caring, and thriving place. Admittedly, I was skeptical of the program’s ability to accomplish visioning work for a group of students who attend the “number seven sexiest party school in the country“. Fortunately I couldn’t have been more wrong.

What if bullying didn’t exist? What if all young girls felt beautiful and confident in their own skin? What if no children had cancer? These questions and more were considered by members of my “cluster family”, The Calypso Cluster. Their visions for the future were nothing short of inspiring, and I feel incredibly blessed for the chance to have coached them through their visioning process. They taught me so much about myself, and I’m happy that my sarcastic disposition didn’t scare them off too much.

I'll never watch The Wolf of Wall Street and not think of these crazy kids.
I’ll never watch The Wolf of Wall Street and not think of these crazy kids.

The work connecting with the curriculum was special, but what was equally as important for me that week was building friendships with the rest of the staff team. I learned so much from our co-leads Dana and Sam, and feel that I found true friends in Mike, Kiki, Jazz, and Jon. I remain inspired by our on-site coordinators Lydia and Dan who are quiet leaders that impact and influence their peers through their daily actions. Picking up my friendship with Jesi right where we left off a few years ago was also a highlight of the trip, and I am incredibly impressed with the work both she and Dan Gaken are doing with the Central Michigan University Leadership Institute.

Just a few of the greatest people you'll ever meet.
Just a few of the greatest people you’ll ever meet.

As if LeaderShape wasn’t enough of a boost for the month, somehow I was also given the incredible opportunity to co-lead The Journey: Delta Sigma Phi to Honduras last week. There aren’t really words to describe how this experience challenged and changed the 16 of us who made the journey to Central America, but I’ll try to explain our adventure for eager readers.

Landing in San Pedro Sula, it was immediately clear that the language barrier was real. Fortunately for Delta Sig, one of our undergraduate members spoke Spanish fluently and was an incredible asset as we worked to build community with those around us. Through daily service, nighttime discussions, and cultural experiences, our group embarked on a journey that would open our eyes to many things we rarely, if ever, think about.

We spent the week with views like these.
Day One: Both brothers and strangers

The most impactful part of the week for me was discovering the difference between wants and needs. Prior to the trip I would have said that in order to live, I need electricity, running water, a kitchen, air conditioning, and wifi in whatever home I chose to live in. To me these are essentials, and I could not imagine living without them. After spending a week building a house with only four wooden walls and a tin roof for a single father, my perspective has changed. Yes, I will hopefully always live in a home with nice amenities. However, I am much more aware of my privilege to hold a job that supports my ability to live in a home that cool in the summer, warm in the winter, and provides hot showers.

The House Delta Sigma Phi helped to build
Day Five: The house Delta Sigma Phi helped to build

Another huge takeaway from the week was just how happy the Hondurans were. My expectation coming in was to find people living in poor conditions who were hoping to find their golden ticket out of poverty. Instead, I was shocked to find people who have very few physical possessions yet some of the most positive dispositions I’ve ever encountered.

One of the students on the trip made a great observation that in the United States it seems like the more you have, the more you want. You get an iPhone 5 and a year later wish you could have the 5S. You buy a new car, but still wish you had a bigger TV. In Honduras, the things that matter most are family and God. They’re not out for material possessions or big promotions. Instead they’re about supporting each other and building a strong community.

Fernando was everyone' favorite friend. Watching him scale a 30 foot palm tree to get us coconuts was awesome.
Fernando was everyone’s favorite friend. Watching him scale a 30 foot palm tree to get us coconuts was awesome.

To say this experience was humbling is an understatement. I met the most incredible and beautiful children who helped us complete our house construction. I hiked down a gorgeous river and planted trees on the side of a mountain in the jungle. I ate fruit fresh off the tree and attended church service in a foreign language. I zip-lined over and climbed under the most breathtaking waterfall I could ever imagine. I survived on cliff bars, goldfish, and applesauce for six days. And I’m not the same person I was when I left.

Pictures of this waterfall could never do it justice.
Pictures of this waterfall could never do it justice.

I wish that programs like LeaderShape and The Journey could be experienced by everyone. There’s much to be gained through the visioning work and tough conversations facilitated by LeaderShape, and so much possibility for a new outlook on the world through cultural immersion programs like The Journey. I find myself wishing that my family members, college roommates, grad school cohort, and even casual acquaintances had access to the type of opportunities I had this May. I am fortunate to have had the chance to experience and facilitate each of these incredible programs, and am thankful to the students and fellow facilitators who helped provide me the chance to learn and grow.