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It has been exactly two weeks since the end of my independent project. Those two weeks have given me a lot of time to think about everything that has occurred, my expectations versus my realities, who I am as a person and how I’ve grown, and what I’m going to do next. I’ve come to further appreciate my experience and its immersion, especially looking back and remembering the times when people have thanked me for listening or how people could remember who I was every day.

I didn’t expect to act and feel like an integral part of the organization. I simply expected to do my tasks and try to figure out the reflective piece on my own. However, I had the opportunity to be reflective every day due to the jarring and unfamiliar situations I faced. It shined the light on my own prejudices and judgments, which was extremely humbling. It also gave me hope, since many people are knowledgeable about what is occurring, and the many services that are available to help them. However, due to systemic issues and social stigma, I’ve come to realize that knowing what is happening is one the first step of many on the path to fixing it.

So, what to do with this information? I could use it in a future career. I could create advocacy initiatives in my local or global community. I could even try to start my own nonprofit and try to directly tackle the crisis. However, for now, I think I will execute the most profound skill that I improved upon during my trip: being a sympathetic and attentive listener. I have seen first hand that listening and showing compassion can be just as effective as medicines. Listening is something that is falling out of fashion in our culture, so my first and continuous goal will be to promote the powers of listening, empathy and compassion, which will hopefully be enough to break the cycle of desensitization and mobilize society for a common cause.