- October 1, 2014
- Posted by: Meg VanDeusen
- Category: Ambassador, Wednesday Wisdom
Today’s post comes from Danielle Smogard, a recent college-grad living and teaching in India. The things she misses most from America are raspberries, fall, cappuccinos, and her family and friends. We chose this post for her humility and patience to recognize her role as a volunteer within the greater picture of students’ education. In addition, we value this post for its ability to reach all audiences – before, during, or after – a trip abroad or doing something that outside comfort zones.
A strange, but predictable, thing happened when I told people I was moving to India. Some people rose their eyebrows, some smiled politely, and a lot of people—almost everyone, in fact—told me that I was brave. That they are proud of me. That I am adventurous.
I guess those things are true. It does take bravery to move somewhere new, but people do that every day. Maybe not to India, but they do it. All of my closest friends are making life-changing choices and moving to new places, some to places may have never been before and may know no one.
I guess it was adventurous of me, to move so far away and live so differently than I ever have before. Most people were pretty fixated on the bucket-shower aspect of my new life. They would grimace and, like I did, probably thought ‘Those poor people who bathe out of buckets’. A few days in and I realized – no – poor me for being so dependent on luxuries the majority of the world lives without.
In the circle of privilege I have grown up in—in both childhood and college—I don’t feel adventurous. The majority of my friends have already lived abroad (some multiple times) in a variety of ‘adventurous’ conditions. So in a twisted way, I feel like I am playing catch-up. I realize I can’t compare my travels to those of my friends because it is a very skewed sample. The majority of the population does not live this way. The majority of people do not have these opportunities.
Which is why I don’t feel very brave or special. I feel lucky.
I applied for a volunteer position and received an even better opportunity to have a job that is paid. Lucky.
I have the means to travel around the world for said job because of the privilege I grew up with, the education I was fortunate enough to receive (without student loans to pay off afterwards), and the job I had last year that allowed me to live comfortably in D.C. and save money. Lucky.
Yes, there was hard work involved. I worked hard in high school to get into college, I worked hard in college to get a job afterwards, and I worked hard at that job to build my resume and so on and so on.
But the lottery of birth is random and I did nothing to deserve the upbringing that has been responsible for the majority of the opportunities I have received throughout my lifetime.
Not all, but the majority of the volunteers the children see are people who can afford to fly to India and work for no pay. Some have found external sponsors to pay for airfare and make up for lost income, but it is still a rare form of privilege to be able to spend a summer volunteering instead of working. Volunteers who come here have likely traveled a great deal before coming and will continue to have adventures after they leave.
Yes, it takes bravery and a sense of adventure to make a move like this. Yes, working with children is a good thing to do because education is important. But other teachers, who may not have the time or money to travel across the world, make more of a difference than I do every single day. Every moment—even the difficult ones—I feel so fortunate to be here with these kids. It is cliché, but true: I am learning so much more from them than they are from me.
So perhaps I am brave, but what I know for certain is that I am lucky.
“Wednesday Wisdom” is a weekly series curated by Everyday Ambassador partnerships director Meg VanDeusen. Every Wednesday, we will feature updates from our partners and reflections from the Everyday Ambassador community. To stay current with our latest posts, follow #wednesdaywisdom or #wordstoliveby on our other platforms, and check back regularly for updates.