Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Cooties to Caring

"Ewww boys/girls have cooties!"
This statement has been familiar to each and every one of us for at least a small period of our lives. I'll never forget the time in middle school when boys and girls finally decided to like each other. This led us to form friendships that have stood the test of time and support each other regardless of our differences.
Fast forward about 10 years after the ‘cooties’ phase, and you will see 73 state FFA officers from around the country have the opportunity to travel to South Africa! Throughout this trip, we saw and experienced food, views, people, and so much more that we were not familiar with! The sights were some of the most beautiful I had ever seen and the food took me a step outside of my comfort zone. However, if we jump back to the moment we were stepping on the plane to fly to South Africa, joy was far from the feeling I was experiencing.  
Anxiety, loneliness, and resentment are what I just couldn’t seem to shake on the long flight across the Atlantic Ocean. As we landed, I felt shaky and wanted to go home. This country was hot (nothing like Minne-snow-ta), had food I wasn’t familiar with, and scary animals like baboons. The realization hit me that I was feeling homesick, and I did for the next few days of the trip. However, I couldn’t figure out why this was; I was never homesick, even when I moved into college, went to camps, etc. Why was this happening now, when I was surrounded with old and new friends?
While on the trip, we had small groups with adult leaders we debriefed with each night. Countless times in our small groups, we talked about what similarities there were between our countries, but I always seemed to be focusing more on the differences. It was just like back in elementary school when we thought boys weren’t like us and we weren’t willing to see that we were actually similar in some ways. It’s not always wrong to see the differences; after all, that’s human nature. However, an average person can easily identify how two people or places are different. But, it takes a true leader to fit the puzzle pieces together to find similarities. When I started to realize this, I knew something had to change, or the rest of the trip would be miserable.
As I continued to travel, I thought of South Africa as my home and put forth my greatest effort to point out the similarities between the two countries. Kind people, beautiful views, great friends, and delicious hamburgers were just a few of those commonalities that eventually helped me feel like I was truly welcome in the beautiful country of South Africa.
This can also relate to our lives as we meet new people. Often times, we look at others and immediately see the differences they have from ourselves, whether that be hair, skin color, personality, family background, or interests/passions/hobbies. We judge people in the first seven seconds we meet them, but think about how meaningful that could be if in those seven seconds we recognized a similarity.
As we leave for our trips on spring break and in the future, let’s remember that the country, or state, we are visiting isn’t all that different from our own. As we travel throughout our lives, if we recognize the things we have in common with others and the places we go, we can be united and see the beauty in all people and places.
Think of a time and place when you were homesick. What similarities could you have recognized between home and the destination?
How will you make an effort this week to recognize the similarities you have with someone else?

Stationed by the door,

Maddie Weninger

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