This month at Jersey Cares we are celebrating Women’s History Month by inviting some of our friends to share their thoughts and experiences on the women who have inspired them. Today we feature a piece by Jennifer Lewellen, Jersey Cares Service Events Manager.
It was the first flight on my very first trip abroad and I could barely contain my excitement. I could not wait to taste fresh, exotic dishes and take photographs of my favorite historical monuments. All of my expectations were innocent, yet a bit selfish. I expected to become a sponge, soaking up all the “culture” that I could in ten days. I would later realize that the memories that really lasted were the ones I shared with the people I met while I was there.
Sitting next to me on the plane was my Aunt Hope, who had always promised to take me on my first trip abroad after high school. Picture a short-haired, prosthetic leg-wearing, blog-writing, travelling, Paralympic medaled-athlete. That’s Aunt Hope.
While I have obviously been inspired by my aunt’s incredible attitude and determination after losing her leg at a young age, my life has been touched even more so by her wandering spirit. When I was in elementary school, she gave me an interactive globe as a birthday present. I spent hours spinning the globe and seeing where my pointed finger would land, wondering what the people looked like in these countries, what they wore, what they ate, and what it would feel like to walk down their streets. Every time Aunt Hope came back from one of her trips to Japan or Israel or Germany, she would bring me some coins and tell me about everything she learned from her new international friends. I wanted to be exactly like her one day-to travel the globe, meet new people, and broaden my horizons.
When I was older and finally did start to travel, my love for new places grew into a love for new people. Seeing how people lived differently than I did everywhere I went, I wanted to also understand their struggles. I grew up visiting downtown Chicago, where my only run in with poverty might be the homeless people asking for spare change on the sidewalks. When I finally made it to Europe, Central America, and Africa, I began to notice issues that I had not previously been confronted with. Now I was becoming aware of not only issues of hunger and homelessness, but also of a need for clean drinking water, a lack of available hygiene products for women, or a lack of rights for indigenous populations. It did not take long for me to shift my focus from the field of diplomacy to the nonprofit world.
My Aunt Hope taught me that other cultures mattered, and without realizing it, that other people mattered. Now, whenever I travel, the first thing I notice is the people. I notice their joys and needs and routines. Sometimes all it takes is a change of scenery to gain a fresh perspective. Without my love for travel, which I know I inherited from her, I may not have been moved to pursue my now fulfilling career path.
I have learned two important lessons from Aunt Hope: First, that I have the power to decide what my life will look like, even in the face of adversity. And, second, that there is more to the world than just me, myself, and I.