They gave me ME.
by Jessica Couture
When I signed up with Cross Cultural Solutions I was afraid. Not of the program but rather of growing up. Volunteering for four weeks in Morocco was my way of avoiding the “real world”. I was a college senior who had spent the past 3.5 years working towards a degree in a field I suddenly didn’t care about.
Everything I had worked for, everything I had been taught was important suddenly didn’t matter to me as graduation approached. I didn’t want to grow up. I wanted a redo. I wish someone had told me when I was 17 that I wasn’t going to be the same person at 21. That it was OK to not know what I wanted. No one ever tells you that. They tell you to do what’s expected, go to college, get a job, save up your money, have a family. They tell you to craft a life that will pay off “eventually”.
Unfortunately in that final year of college I learned that tomorrow is not a guarantee and that waiting for a future where you can enjoy your hard work is really just a waste of time. All those fears I let control me, they weren’t my fears; they belonged to someone else. The concept of failure that had been ingrained in my brain since childhood was wrong. A steady job, a nice house, the “American Dream” so to speak, that isn’t success; at least not if you aren’t happy.
So I signed up with Cross Cultural Solutions, ditched my friend on an apartment we were about to sign a lease for and told my parents thanks for supporting me this past four years but now I have to find me. The reactions I received were mixed to put it nicely, but for every naysayer I found a bigger supporter. I drained my savings, worked overtime every week, and when I had to, accept generous help from my family.
When the time came to leave, the day after Thanksgiving, I felt fully prepared. I had an entire adventure planned out for myself, as my father would put it “the adventure of a lifetime”, four weeks volunteering in Morocco followed by three weeks traveling Europe with my friends. I thought as long as I did this trip and made the most of it I would be ready to settle down when I got home.
My time in Rabat changed everything. Nothing in my life has ever made me feel as important as I did every morning at my volunteer placement. The work we were doing wasn’t life-saving aid work, it wasn’t detrimental, but to the children we worked with it meant the world and they meant the world to me. My time with CCS taught me how to be alone and be OK with it, it taught me how to survive and thrive in the unfamiliar, how to wrangle a taxi in a language I didn’t understand, and how to love an entire country so different from my own.
I cried on my last day at the placement, an embarrassing ugly cry. For months after I made it home, I felt like I was missing something. I would look at the pictures of the kids, read the little notes I’d jotted down every day I was there, and I would just miss it so much. I bounced around for a little while after I came home. Contrary to my plan, I didn’t come home ready to buckle down and enter the real world. I had quickly decided the real world wasn’t for me. I like having my head in the clouds, I like booking a plane ticket just because and ending up walking the streets of a foreign city on my own. So that’s what I did. I traveled a bit, experienced beautiful places and wonderful people and finally felt like I was beginning to find myself.
As my one-year anniversary of arriving in Morocco neared I made a decision. I could find my success, my happiness, my “real world” doing exactly what I loved. I didn’t have to be what people had always told me I should be. So I did go back to school. I’m currently enrolled in a Master’s Program for International Studies with a focus on security, governance, and human rights. I hope to work for the foreign services someday; to travel and do good for others.
I’m not worried anymore though. As the semester winds down I’m not stressed over what the next step is. I’ve made travel a regular part of my life and I get antsy if I go longer than a few months without going somewhere, anywhere. The goals I’ve set are lofty, and they may never happen, but I know one thing to be true, I know what makes me happy and I know I will always find a way to do it, dream job or not.
I thought my time with Cross Cultural Solutions would give me a sense of absolution; that I would help those less fortunate than me and learn to appreciate what I had and I did. What I didn’t expect was to find that the lessons I learned in those four weeks were far more than I could ever give. To the children I played with, sang with and showered with love I gave a huge part of myself, but they gave me even more. They gave me me.