Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Northern Comfort Zone

I don’t know about you, but I love listening to music! One of my favorite songs to jam out to is called “Southern Comfort Zone” by Brad Paisley. In case you haven’t heard this great song, I included it below -- give it a listen!

Recently, six Minnesota current and past state officers traveled to South Africa as part of the International Leadership Seminar for State Officers (ILSSO). This post is a little lengthy, but for good reason -- it shares an overview of our trip and what we learned so hear me out! The six of us left Minnesota soil on January 2 and returned yesterday afternoon! When I found out I was going on the trip, I was bursting with excitement, but I am not going to lie, I was a little nervous since the farthest away I had ever been is Florida way back when I was a toddler. Would our plane get delayed or canceled? Would I get sick? Would I lose my passport? Would I not adjust to the culture? As Brad Paisley would say, I had, over time, created my own (northern) comfort zone; I felt was way too comfortable with my surroundings and never truly had the opportunity to branch out and fully experience something outside of Minnesota.

The first couple lines of “Southern Comfort Zone” can really summarize my initial reaction to leaving the U.S. and stepping on South African soil for the first time: “When your wheelhouse is the land of cotton, the first time you leave it can be strange, it can be shocking.” The second after leaving the airport in Johannesburg, and soaking in my surroundings, we knew that we needed to adapt to the culture of South Africa. But the big deal question that plagued me and my fellow travelers was simply how. How are we going to be fully present and immersed into this new, exciting and unfamiliar culture? Essentially, how were we going to delete our comfort zones?

Thinking back on the trip, there is one key takeaway I would like to share with each of you as it relates to comfort zones. Going into South Africa, being the Type A person I am, I tried to gain some knowledge about South Africa before our departure. Let me just say, my predispositioned thoughts of South Africa and the images I had in my mind for what South Africa would look like were completely wrong and irrelevant. I am going to be blunt in saying that there are a lot of stereotypes out there about Africa, and many other developing regions for that matter. For instance, when eating lunch with friends in the cafeteria at school, many of us may hear things like “Dude, why are you throwing that burger away? Someone in Africa could be eating that.” While it might be a good idea to not waste food, saying something this is not entirely valid. Since each culture is different, it should be noted that South Africa natives have different living conditions and expectations.

One afternoon, we got to spend some time in a local town. First, we got to meet some kindergarten students, who sang us songs. When we visited them after they sang for us, their smiles were radiating with happiness -- it made me feel good knowing that these students are the future of South Africa. Later on, we ate lunch at “mama’s” house. The sheer pride, joy and happiness she shared with us, coupled with the incredibly tasty food, made me realize that life in South Africa, while different, is not bad. Yes, there are still improvements that can be done there. Yes, there are some people who are hungry or are economically disadvantaged. But you know what? Life in America isn’t always perfect for everyone either. You don’t need to travel to another country to make a difference. As our theme for the year suggests, our legacy starts NOW. Your impact and legacy doesn’t have to be made halfway across the globe -- it can be crafted right here and right now.

So, what’s next? How are you going to delete your northern comfort zone? While our trip to South Africa was unforgettable and had a major impact on all of our lives, I realize one thing now that I am back on Minnesota soil. So often, we get caught up in the fact that our service (and deletion of our comfort zones) must be done on a global level in order to make a “lasting impact” or “true difference.” Let me fill you in on a little secret -- this is nowhere near true because little did I know, the vast majority of the things I did to delete my northern comfort zone in South Africa could have also been done back home. If you can go to another country and be immersed in their culture, that’s great. But, I want to challenge you to first delete your northern comfort zone here in our land of 10,000 lakes. The service and personal actions we do here in this arctic tundra and home that we call Minnesota can make an impact that surpasses the impact we can have while serving abroad. Here are a few ideas to help get you started as you prepare to delete your comfort zone and leave a legacy:
  • Gather some friends and go volunteer for an afternoon to package meals for those in need in our local area!
  • Next time you’re cooking food or are at a restaurant, try something a little adventurous! You’ll never know if calamari could be one of your favorite foods if you don’t even try it!
  • Send a note or care package to troops overseas.
  • Sit with someone new at lunch and have a genuine conversation with them to find out who they truly are. One conversation can make a huge impact on someone’s day.
I hope we realize that you do not need a passport to make a difference, friends. Delete your northern comfort zone and get ready to make an impact!

Stationed by the Door,

Joe Ramstad

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