“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”
Its hard to believe that two years ago I was making the rounds in the United States saying good by to friends and loved ones as I was about to embark on a new adventure in my life. It was a difficult time because I was essentially giving up my community of friends and proximity to my family for unknown challenges and opportunities on the African continent. And while the transition was not always an easy one (evacuation because of conflict, damaged external hard drive, malaria, etc.) it has been an inspiring and eye opening experience.
A Facebook friend recently posted an article discussing the 5 Depressing Side Effects No One Tells You About Moving Abroad. The author listed the five depressing side effects as (1) Your loved ones will be devastated, (2) You’ll feel guilty all the time, (3) You’ll feel really, really lonely, (4) You won’t fit in anymore and (5) You’ll lose dear friends. While not everyone will experience all five of these side effects, I think she hit the nail on the head. I’ll never forget when I was preparing to leave the U.S., my mom would always avoid the conversation because she said, “it just brings me to tears.” Its difficult making the move half way around the world because life doesn’t freeze in place until you return from your “amazing adventure.” But not only will I grow from this situation but those around me will also grow from learning about my experiences.
A photo from my last weekend in Washington, D.C. My friends threw me a “Celebrate Sentell, Celebrate America (and Auburn)” party. The one thing that hasn’t changed, wearing Auburn on my chest! War Eagle!
The “American Lens” that I have often used to look at life was ripped from my face and stomped on by my experiences on this continent. And while I have tried to use those “lens” again and again, I have come to the realization that living abroad has completely changed the way I view every aspect of my life. Just the other day, I was talking to a Nigerian youth active in youth civil society organizations (CSO) and we were discussing “best practices” for political parties. He politely corrected me by saying “good” practices, not best practices. His reasoning was not all party practices from the United Kingdom or the United States will fit the norms here in Nigeria. That is why we should refrain from using the term “best” and use “good” when referring to the type of activities political parties should use or implement. This may seem small to you but it’s a big deal with how your words will come across in a cultural settings. The last thing I want to be seen as is a elites American thinking my way is the only way. Interacting with someone from a different culture or background will challenge the way you look at life. And it’s a good thing because it will enhance and strengthen your beliefs. When I lived in Washington, D.C., my friends came from all over the United States and the world.
I don’t know how long this adventure will last but my goal is to take advantage of the friendships and the uncomfortable cultural situations I find myself in while on this continent. I think Nelson Mandela said it best – “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”