When Dr. Frank, adviser of Brenau’s Mediation team, told me to pack my bags because I was chosen to represent Brenau in Ukraine at a mediation competition, I had no idea what was in store for me. I had many emotions. I was excited yet hesitant. What is it going to be like over there? How will they tell me where the bathroom is if they do not speak English? What do I wear? Hello, what about my class?! When I talked to my friends everyone seemed to know stuff I didn’t. They showed me videos and articles about bomb attacks and how unsafe it was. I began to second think my agreement and promise that I made to Dr. Frank, but every time I thought I was not going to go a little voice in my head begged me to. I am so glad I listened to that voice.
Ukraine was one of those experience that left me lost for words when people ask, “how was your trip?” I always reply with just good because I do not believe the dictionary has created a word above truly amazing. Typing this article is actually kind of difficult. Not because I do not know what to say but because I do not know how to make you understand how life changing this trip as a whole was. When I went to Ukraine, I went solely to compete and bring back some hardware to show my family and friends that I am internationally great at mediation, but I received so much more than that. To be honest with you, I almost forgot my certificate in the hotel room because once I met the people I met there, my mindset and outlook on life changed. There were people from all over. There were teams from Singapore, Poland, India, and Ukraine. It is rare in life that you meet someone that has the same exact outlook on life as you do. It is almost like that other person is holding a mirror up to you as the two of you trade stories of wow you get that feeling too. When you meet someone like that do not let them go. I am not planning on letting mine go. All the people I met on this trip where people like that. Although, we all spoke various languages, were brought up in different households, practice different religions, and had a different taste in clothing and food we all agree on one thing: that WE could change the world. We put our difference that society would point out aside and came together and bonded. Forming relationships that will never be broken no matter the distance.
I learned so much from each and every person that I met. I learned that people there do not see me the same way people see me here. Here people see me as an African American woman who changes her hair probably every chance she gets, but there, people saw me as intelligent, sweet, powerful, mind-blowing. They did not see the outside. Of course, they are not color blind. They knew I was black, but they did not let my appearance change the way they treated me. They did not let our differences make them feel uncomfortable They walked hand and hand with me down the sidewalk. They taught me their language. They taught me their customs and their outlook on life. Because of them, I know how big the world is. Because of them, I know that not everyone thinks the same way Americans do. Yes, sure the competition was great, but the people, the place was even better. That is why that voice pulled me there!
When the time came for me to come home, I didn’t want to leave. I cried as hugs followed after goodbyes and were corrected with, “No, I will see you soon.” The whole time on the 20-hour flight, I wondered when is soon. When will I be able to see them again? To connect the way I did. To laugh like I did. We only knew each other for 10 days but I cannot lie when I say it felt like 10 years. They are probably fast asleep right now, but I know that we are all dreaming the same dream. People would probably look at our group with a raised eyebrow and wonder how many arguments we would get into or why we are all even friends to begin with, and I would tell those people that just didn’t understand that: it is our differences that make us unified.