Home is a funny thing. As we get older, the places we call home multiply — starting off as the singular house on a suburban street or apartment in a busy city and then adding a freshman dorm and a house full of friends and more as each year goes by. I’ve called Wheatstone Road in New York home and I’ve called Prosser home. I now call the Pride House home. And it’s not just buildings or bedrooms, it’s people too. The friends I order pizza and watch Disney Channel Original movies with on Friday nights are home. The education class that reaffirms the field I am supposed to study is home. My mother, who will greet me with a cup of tea in a few weeks for winter break, is home. Leaving home is hard–– it’s saying goodbye to the familiar and the comfortable. So when I committed to speak at three events across Canada this semester, I felt butterflies in my stomach. I’d be leaving my many homes on this campus pretty frequently and I was terrified.
I am the founder and CEO of The Validation Project, an international organization that provides mentoring and social justice assignments to 6,000+ teenagers in 105 countries. I was approached by WE Movement, a global movement that holds stadium-sized events in the United States and Canada about social justice for youth, to speak at their ‘WE Days’ in Canada this fall alongside leaders such as Prince Harry, Ban Ki Moon, Kelly Clarkson and more. The opportunity was once in a lifetime — I’d get to share my story with 18,000 teenagers and see parts of the world I’ve never step foot in. But it would be the first time I was introducing my Validation Project life to my Muhlenberg life. Would I lose the safe haven I finally had here?
Fast-forward four months, three trips, four Canadian cities and G-d knows how many airports and this semester has been full of growth and adventure, but also, a lot of hard changes and challenges. But no matter what was happening, like clockwork, I was on a plane with someone I love every few weeks to travel to a new Canadian city. As I left the places and people so deeply engraved as home for me, I learned that it is even more powerful to find love and inspiration in places you don’t call home. I screamed with the sea in Nova Scotia with my brother Alex, getting my rainboots soaked as I strode through water to explore a deserted island that remained nearly untouched. I looked above the world I knew on a suspension bridge hundreds of feet above ground in Vancouver with my mother. I ate my way through the depths of Chinatown in Toronto with my friend Jess, a Muhlenberg Alum. I shared my story with teenagers who came from thousands of schools across Canada with their own passions and issues. I got to see what I’m learning in classes in action: my Ethnicity in US Literature and Public Education for Immigrants cluster came to life in the Canadian Immigration Museum (Pier 21) in Halifax as I read the stories of refugees who have sought safety. My Spanish class clicked as I ate empanadas at a food stand in Granville Island with an old grandmother from Colombia. My sociology course connected the dots as I spoke to rural Nova Scotian teenagers about their socioeconomic experiences.
For now, my Canadian adventures are over — I got back from my last WE Day this weekend. But I made a pact with myself on the plane ride back that I will continue to find beauty and self-reflection in places far from what I know. As we all leave our Muhlenberg home for a month come Dec. 15, I encourage you to step outside that comfort zone and explore the places you don’t call home. That street you never go down or that bus stop you never get off at may not be your home, but it’s someone else’s. And I guarantee you they’ve got quite the story to tell.