If It’s To Be, It’s Up To Me…

24 Mar

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of being the female lead for a youth camp sponsored by Rotary. The camp, located in a small town south of Cape Town called Glencairn, is part of the selection process for a Rotary program called STEP (short-term exchange program). STEP provides an opportunity for young adults to go abroad for up to two months. The students can travel to Italy, Germany, France, The Netherlands, Turkey, Hungary, India, Switzerland, and Brazil. During the short-term exchange, students will live with a host family during the summer holiday (December-January) and are expected to engage with their hosts and immerse themselves in their culture. Prior to leaving, their host family will send one of their children to South Africa during June-July, and they will live with a family here. Sort of like an international child swap. I didn’t know much about the program prior to arriving but was very glad to have the opportunity to learn about another type of Rotary global exchange. James Robertson, the coordinator of the camp and one of the “next generation” of Rotarians (he’s 27) approached me about 2 weeks ago about leading by the suggestion Dez, one of the Pinelands Rotarians. Full disclosure: I had never worked at a camp before but have enough experience working with youth that I felt comfortable enough to say “yes”. I am so happy I did. The setting was stunning, as you can see in the pictures, and I was able to meet some smart, vivacious, and charming high schoolers from all over the region. I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did! The students have more camps to attend in the future before their departure, and I hope to be a part of the process down the line.

At the camp, we had a mantra we kept repeating over and over to the kids: If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me. What we told our campers was that sometimes when you’re abroad on one of these exchanges, things don’t always necessarily work out. You will find yourself in awkward and tough situations. But rather than throwing your hands up and thinking things are out of your control, you must make the most of a situation. Say you lose your bags in a foreign airport… What do you do? Or your host family doesn’t want to take you to go see any cultural attractions. Or your homesickness seems insurmountable. In those moments, it’s up to you to make the experience you want to have, to be bold and step out of your comfort zone. Those moments where you take control tend to be the most memorable and those are the situations that lend themselves to letting you grow and learn more about yourself and what you’re actually capable of. For me, as a 25- year old with a little bit of traveling under my belt, those words struck a cord with me. I thought about when I was in India on a study abroad program. During our stay in Goa, our group of 18 was split into 3 smaller groups for field sights. I was placed with a group of my close female friends to study local fisheries. One day, we piled into a car, driven to a fishing town, dropped off at a hotel and were told we would be collected in four days time. And then, our guide, the man we allegedly thought was going to be our instructor for our field study, the guy who drove us all the way there, left. Six 19-22 year old women, together, on a beach, in Goa. We were admittedly stricken with panic. We had no contacts, didn’t speak the local language, didn’t know where to eat, weren’t given enough money to buy food, and were a bit vulnerable. On top of that, we were supposed to learn something about traditional fishing. So we walked down the street, into a tavern, ordered food and Kingfishers, and over the sound of a cricket match on the television, we devised our plan. We resolved to wake-up at sunrise the next morning, the time that we knew the fisherman would be going out for the day. We would interview people on the beach, follow the catch from the boat to the beach to the market, and would go try some traditional Goan fish curry. The next morning, we awoke to see a spectacular sunrise and wandered to the ocean. There we found a group of young Indian men playing cricket. They invited us to play while we waited for the boats to come in. When the boats did come in, we were able to help drag the nets onto the shore. Talk about self-directed learning! We would have never had those experiences if things had worked out “as they ought to have.” I think “if it’s to be, it’s up to me” is applicable in so many other things in life outside of international travel, too. It was a particularly good message to hear as I contemplate what kind of experience I want to have in South Africa and with Rotary.

I was surprised and very, very touched at how, after only about 60 some hours, I bonded so closely with the students. It was encouraging to see them connect with each other throughout the course of the weekend. They were a very cohesive group and extremely well-behaved. James’ tireless work leading up to the weekend and during our camp was inspiring. That man has put in countless hours for the benefit of those kids, without asking anything in return. He represents the values of Rotary to the core and is a hopeful beacon for the future of Rotary. I hope he extends the invitation for next year.

Here is a line-up of some of the photos I took during the weekend; apologies about the formatting with the text. I guess a clear format just wasn’t meant to be. 🙂

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