Emily Dahle is living in South Africa for a year serving with the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission program. To support Emily, or others in the program, go here.
I love making lists. On my desk, I currently have an old to-do list, a more up-to-date to-do list, a list of addresses, a list of people to whom I have sent postcards, and list of blog ideas. Sometimes, I will even make a to-do list filled with super easy things like "Eat breakfast" just so I can make a list and cross things off.
A couple of days ago, I started a list of the things I love about Young Adults in Global Mission. While I have only shared my top 10 with you, there are approximately 732 other things I could add as well. :)
10. YAGMs are constantly trying new foods.
I would have never thought that I would fall in love with a sandwich piled high with French fries, cheese, an egg and two kinds of meat, but here I am, ordering kota (the sandwich I just described) almost every week. Many people are proud of me because I will try almost anything, as long as I'm not told exactly what it is until after I take the first bite. Food is not only a fun thing to try, but it is also an excellent way to connect with people and a community.
9. I can now appreciate simply "being."
Yes, I am an American. Yes, I studied business finance and accounting in college. Yes, I like to get stuff done and be super productive. Yes, I have finally realized that "getting stuff done" may not be the most important thing in life. Some of my favorite days have been "unproductive" in the American sense but filled with wonderful conversation and time spent with others. Surprising, I know.
8. Being able to find comfort in the discomfort.
This is one that took me a long time to appreciate. Trust me, being a YAGM is usually anything but comfortable. I have been thrown into more uncomfortable situations than I can remember. However, I have noticed that those situations are the ones that I learn from and appreciate.
7. I have been forced out of my comfort zone.
To piggy-back off of the last point, YAGM has completely and totally forced me to go way outside of my comfort zone. Exhibit A: Small-town Minnesota girl (that's me) living in the largest township in South Africa, with a population of over 1 million people (that's Soweto). Enough said.
6. YAGM has taught me so much about myself.
Through all of the challenges, joys, random experiences, conversations and simple everyday life, I have learned more about myself than I thought possible. I have learned more about how I see myself as a Christian, as a friend, as a white woman, as a privileged American, and especially as a part of the greater global community.
5. I have learned how to rely on others.
Throughout my whole life, I have been pretty independent. I have always been able to do things on my own without asking for much help. Well, if I tried to keep that same mindset as a YAGM, I probably would spend the whole year sitting in my room doing nothing. In order to simply live in a new country among a new community, asking for help is a must. To be honest, I was afraid to do so for the first couple of months. I got through, but since I have started asking for help, I have learned so much more than I ever could have imagined.
4. You can learn a new language.
The YAGM Southern Africa program is fairly unique in the fact that no language training is provided at the beginning of service. Why, you may ask? Well, between the 10 volunteers here, we are attempting to learn six different languages. Yep, six! South Africa is a wonderfully diverse country, so naturally a lot of languages are spoken. For me, personally, language has become simply fascinating since I moved here. In my little neighborhood, I have met people that speak Zulu, Sotho, Venda, Tswana, and Xhosa as their first language. While this could create major confusion, people are incredibly helpful in translating things to English when I need it, while also trying to teach me some of the native languages.
3. I have made so many new friends.
Between my friends in my host community and my fellow YAGMs, I feel almost overwhelmed by the love surrounding me. First of all, in my host community, I have fellow volunteers, other co-workers, neighbors and children of all ages that I now call my friends. Although they all know I will leave in only a few short months, they have all welcomed me into their lives and I will be forever grateful. Second, my fellow YAGM-SA family is truly my second family. When we are together, the air is filled with laughter, discussion, discernment, tears (of joy and heartache) and so much love. I cannot imagine going through this experience without them and I know we will stay friends forever.
2. YAGM makes you think.
Whoa. The thinking that I have done. Seriously, I didn't know my brain could handle all of these thoughts! Not only has my experience made me think about simple things like new foods and languages, but my time here has made me think about social justice, race issues, gender equality, economic justice and more. I joke sometimes that ignorance really is bliss, because sometimes it is hard and frustrating to wrestle with these thoughts. However, I am extremely grateful for experiences that bring up these difficult thoughts, because now I feel the need and passion to work on these issues alongside my global brothers and sisters.
1. I now feel truly connected to the global church.
Seeing what YAGM has done here in South Africa as well as the impact made by fellow YAGMs around the world is absolutely incredible. I feel blessed to be a part of the greater church, but I feel even more blessed to be a part of God's greater kingdom here on earth. I have seen God in so many unexpected places, and I now know that our Lord's presence is truly being felt around the world.
Like I said, these are only 10 of the reasons why I believe that YAGM is a truly amazing program and why I am so incredibly grateful for my experience so far.