Perspective

A week ago we had a group meeting of just TBB students no PLs in order to work on getting us out of this little slump we all seemed to be experiencing. To give us some help and support, Robin Pendoley, the founder of TBB sent us all this email that I thought I would share to help those who aren’t a part of TBB understand a bit of what it’s like.

“It sounds like you’ve been having a phenomenal and challenging year. I thought I might share a few thoughts with you to share some perspective on what you are doing.”

“The first time I saw the TBB itinerary on paper I thought, “Man, that is amazing.” It’s hard not to get excited about seeing so many countries, having the opportunity to really meet and live with people around the world, and do it all with amazing people – both students and PL’s. Don’t get me wrong, even as one of the people that created the itinerary, it was intimidating and even a bit scary. But, like you, I found the courage to take that first step and get on that first flight.”

“Somewhere along the way, that excitement falls away to road weariness, hard work, and mental and emotional exhaustion. From the first time we blow up the question “What is development?” into a slew of other questions, this experience pushes us to wrap our minds and hearts around a really complex world. We find incredible friends, parents, and siblings in our homestays. We see great hope and inspiration in the commitment and work of some of our partners abroad. We laugh and play and share with our peers in profound ways.”

“But, then we confront the daily sight of children and adults struggling for adequate food, water, agency, and hope. We uncover the reality that our greatest global challenges aren’t examples of good vs. evil, and won’t be solved by everyone just rolling up our sleeves and giving our best. We find ourselves filled with more questions and less certainty than at any moment of our lives. It all becomes a moment-to-moment balancing act between excitement and sadness, sometimes just leaving us numb to it all and longing to be home where everything is familiar.”

“Probably the most important perspective I can share with you is that it is normal for you to struggle at times. In the end, we should be struggling with this, right? This is the real world. You’ve spent months traveling, living in and exploring other cultures, and asking the deep questions that challenge you to question the assumptions you normally use to analyze what you observe in the world. We often talk about critical thinking as an intellectual process. Really, it’s as much (or more) an emotional process. You’ve spent this time opening up your ability to truly see the world in its beauty, it’s sadness, it’s gorgeous simplicity, and it’s challenging complexities. That should come with strong emotions.”

“The second perspective to share is that it gets easier. Once you start seeing the world in this way, you can’t really go back to seeing it as simple again. But, you do become more comfortable with it all. At some point, questions start to feel safer than answers. You have years of time and experiences and study and creative actions ahead to think about everything you are doing and seeing in these days. Take advantage of every day and every moment, but don’t worry if it doesn’t all make sense or if you don’t end each day with a profound new conclusion. All of those moments will stay with you, and they’ll take on new meaning as you process them and make them more and more a part of how you see the world in the months and years ahead. Yep, it’s a lot of work, but it is so incredibly fulfilling when you have one of those moments when the pieces come together into a new way of understanding a situation.”

“What you are doing is exceptional. You have committed a significant period of your life to taking on an incredible personal challenge. You’re asking hard questions, supporting one another, and engaging with the world in a way that few ever get to. This way of learning and approaching the world – relying on questions rather than answers, and seeing others as new potential friends, siblings, parents, or partners despite cultural, economic, and political borders – is not common. Those in society who do it and do it well have a unique ability to bring people together in pursuit of truth and solutions to our greatest social ills. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhiji, Nelson Mandela, and other leaders of meaningful and lasting change shared this approach to learning and the world. It’s an enormous part of what made them successful at addressing the issues they were each most passionate about. We don’t each have to aspire to the level of fame and social status of these leaders. But, we should each aspire to their capacities to learn without ego, to lead with questions and thought rather than answers and statements, and to allow themselves to find love and a true human connection with anyone they encounter.”

“You still have quite a bit of your TBB program left. Enjoy the easy and fun and inspiring moments. Give yourself the space to retreat for a bit when you feel exhausted or overwhelmed. But, stay with it. Keep doing the hard work of thinking and feeling everything that is in you each day. It’s not easy. It’s not supposed to be. But, it is absolutely worth it for you and for all of the incredible things it will allow you to do in the years to come.”

“I’m really excited to see you all in person, share stories, and work together to pull some of the pieces of your experience together. Travel safely. Take care of yourselves, each other, and your incredible PL’s.”

“Talk to you soon,

Robin”

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