Leaving your county, or state, or country (as the case will be shortly for the VALOR fellows) imparts a gift of perspective.
Not a gift to be taken lightly, it takes processing and production by the user in order to create anything of value. I can travel to another state or country, but if I jet-set and take experiences as they come with no reflection or further processing, the only one missing out is me! Whether with VALOR, my job, or my family, each experience outside of my comfort zone (both physical and figurative) is an opportunity for personal growth.
VALOR’s most recent learning opportunity came a few states south, complete with a warm breeze and crystal clear springs. And alligators. Let’s not forget the gators. But lest you think we were there to hit up the vacay scene in Florida, I can assure you that we were not. Unless you include a mountain of raw sugar at US Sugar Corporation as a Yelp 5-star attraction (hhhmmmm…..).
A step into another state, one that is flanked by water on most sides and sits on an aquifer, is slightly different than my usual picturesque view of mountains and valleys. And I have to admit – we didn’t see a single beach while in Florida – and traveled acres in the middle of the state that I didn’t know existed. We traversed ranches and groves, farms and educational centers that had nothing to do with spring break sites or that larger-than-life mouse. If you hadn’t told me we were in Florida, I may not have known. It was that different.
We talked with ranchers, agriculturalists, farmers, educators, and even made friends with a machete-carrying local. (Wouldn’t you?) We listened as they relayed history, proudly talked about heritage, and listed challenges and opportunities for their home state. While each VALOR fellow brought with them their own perspective and baggage (again, both literal and figurative 🙂 ) — we were challenged by a deep walk into territory we hadn’t been, ideas we hadn’t heard, and perspectives that were not our own.
The gift of perspective for me on this specific Florida trip revolved around my reflections on community. Our work and witness in our own communities may be small in nature or may stretch to great lengths. But regardless of the reach, it’s the quality of content that really matters. Learning experiences and travels in VALOR over the past year and a half have challenged me to be true to me, to learn deeply from others, and to leave my tiny corner of the world a better place.