During a recent trip to Armenia I had the good fortune of visiting the American University of Armenia where I met with 17 young bright minds passionately involved in changing the world in which they live. They expressed their love of heritage and culture and vocalized their concerns to create a fertile environment where youth could bravely leverage their skills, shape their future and determine the outcome of their successes. All wanted to make a change in their own world.
Traveling home on another long flight that was to connect in London, I sat next to a young woman who, after a brief nod of acknowledgement, seemed more eager to turn her face to the window and wrap herself in her own body, as though she were fighting with her own reality. She fidgeted with her own clothing; unsettled in her seat, she moved around, yet she looked paralyzed, clinging and clutching onto an invisible bubble of a world that had completely swallowed her.
Her name, she said, was Angelica. She was on her way to Harvard having just been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship for a two year study in Comparative Fine and Preforming Arts. The subject of her research: Compare and Decipher Changes in Society as Communicated and Depicted Through Contemporary Art. Did Art Generate Resistance to Change or Facilitate Flow? She was to connect on route in London with four other Fulbright scholars from around the world, (India, China, Israel, and Iran) and together they were to travel to Harvard. Anxiety, and a crippling fear of the unknown had consumed her. Here was a smart, worldly, technologically capable, well-informed young adult. She would have access to all kinds of tools, from computers and internet to museums and galleries, to a degree from one of the world’s finest universities, each of which would open doors to knowledge and power from which anything is possible. Yet, she felt fearful. Fearful of change. She knew change was inevitable. It was evident across the globe. People were discontent and manifesting their want for change everywhere. But on a personal level, she felt uncertain because she didn’t know what this experience would do to her. She said she was fearful of the change that could take place within her.
Angelica had chosen to undertake this journey although, she said, it was inconsistent with her nature. She was not one to easily abandon old habits and beliefs. Nonetheless, it was a willful choice to apply for the study. She had taken a leap of faith even with her reluctance to give up the beliefs that she had rigidly adhered to for so long within her small town environment, her family, education and comfortable job. But now on the plane, she was having second thoughts leaving her comfort zone, not wanting to take risks and venture from the familiar into unfamiliar territory. The self-discovery that she had already started the chain reaction of change with her new pursuits was a fearful realization. Add to that, Angelica feared she would discover opportunities that she would never have thought possible… chances that would have a profound influence on her personal life that could be entirely conflicting with her small town beliefs. Change. It had begun from her and from within.
A few hours later I passed Angelica on my way to my departure gate. She was sitting at her gate with a group I assumed were the colleagues she was to meet. Huddled together, having found each other from the four corners of the world, they were already conversing, sharing, comparing, exchanging, learning, discovering. I smiled to myself as I recalled Neale D. Walsh who said “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
What was once frightening to Angelica was becoming her new norm. She was already embracing the changes that were taking place in her life. Angelica was making small changes in her own world. One day she would be a world changer.
The Fulbright Program is the international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. Each Fulbright’s experience is unique and depends on a variety of factors, including project details, location, and language abilities. Despite the variety of experiences, Fulbrights all describe their experiences as life changing and having a profound influence on their professional and personal endeavors. (Institute of International Education, Fulbright US Student Program)