Aside from the incredible memories that I have created while working with Youth International (I really can’t decide on a specific one!), my favourite overall travel memory was when I did four days of trekking in rural Myanmar. I was exposed to some of the true mental and physical challenges that arise while trekking in remote areas and also got more acquainted with participating with homestays in tiny mountain villages.
In these small villages, I gained a real sense of daily cultural practices by the Burmese tribes and an understanding of their openness and kindness to strangers. Children didn’t chase after me to beg for money and candy, which was quite opposite to what I had grown used to while living in densely-populated and tourist-trodden big cities in Southeast Asia. The village children skipped after me to braid flowers into my hair and decorate my face with their native beauty products, simply due to their interest in experiencing a cross-cultural interaction.
It was through this profoundly authentic experience that I realized how I would love to facilitate and guide younger travellers through similar circumstances, and open up discussions about various styles of living conditions, global wealth gaps, and how the concepts of expectations and ideal happiness differ between various social groups.
When I think back on my independent backpacking experiences, this is the one that stands out that lead me in the direction of leading with Youth International, which I am endlessly thankful for.
I can confidently say that I have experienced profound growth both personally and professionally. The model of the program truly aims at fostering personal introspection and challenging yourself.
On the ground, I truly learned that I am stronger than I think I am. I began to see ways that I could apply this newfound confidence not only to working with my YI team but also to my very own life outside of my work with Youth International. I feel that I not only helped my students grow but by being right there with them through very intimate and challenging experiences, I was able to grow with them.
I also saw a lot of improvement in my team management and personal coaching skills between my first experiences in the field and those following. I noticed exponentially more growth from my first group of my students to my second, which in many areas I can say was due to my growing experience.