A little more than a year ago I boarded an airplane in Bangkok, Thailand headed to a place far more foreign and mysterious to me, my hometown of Indianapolis. After graduating from Lawrence North High School on the north east side, I saw my destiny somewhere in the distant wider world waiting for me. I embarked on many journeys that took me to Los Angeles for four years attending Pomona College and Thailand for a year and a half studying abroad and working.
In high school I built the courage and confidence to come out as a gay man. In college I gained a political and racial consciousness as a biracial Asian American first generation college student with a passion for social justice. Traveling to Thailand for the first time, I connected with my father’s family, discovering roots which I had never known as a child. Through a study abroad program called CIEE Thailand, I also gained powerful experiences in working reciprocally with Thai communities transitioning back to organic farming and organizing against development projects like dams and mines that have disrupted their traditional self-sustaining ways of life. The challenging collaborative work environment of the program also forced me for the first time in my life to take a close look at myself and my faults and through the support of my peers work to become a better listener, friend, and human being.
I returned to the US changed, set on a new path, pursuing a life working and living in community. Returning to my college, life was difficult at first, since I no longer had the support of my friends from Thailand, but I became re-energized and inspired from connecting with a group called Engage. Engage is a network of primarily alumni from the CIEE Thailand program focused on supporting and connecting returning students to do community-based work in the US. Every summer Engage hosts a Convergence somewhere in the country, where we are able to come together to maintain our connection, share our passion and learning, and re-affirm our commitments to one another and our work in community.
My first Convergence in Spartanburg, South Carolina in the summer of 2009, was powerful for me. There were 50 people sleeping on the floor of two large houses on the edge of Glendale, a former textile mill town. The tone and theme was set by P’Kovit an organizer from Thailand who was touring the US for a year with support from Engage. As we were discussing the direction of our work as a network he said, “We don’t need you to fix things in Thailand. We have our own organizers for that. We need you to go back to your home where you have the most power to create change, since problems in America are the cause of problems all over the world.” His words have always stuck with me, planting a seed deep within me.
After five years of seeking my far off destiny, I looked forward to the future and my heart pulled me back to my family, my hometown, and my memory of home and belonging. So it was that I boarded a plane with my one-way ticket back to Indy in June 2011. Having not lived in the city for so long, I had no idea what to expect; most of my high school friends had moved away. What would I find on the other side of the tarmac?
Through a whirlwind of a year working as a Public Ally, connecting with the KI EcoCenter, and re-establishing close ties to family, I feel more rooted than I have ever felt. A year ago I would never in a million years have thought that I would help to organize the Convergence in Indianapolis. The process of bringing people together, shaping it to serve KI’s work, and making it happen over the four non-stop days of Convergence challenged and strengthened our endurance, patience, and ability to communicate and brought us together as friends and teammates.
After a hearty breakfast on the final morning of the Convergence, Kaitlin Roberts a recently returned student led us in a reflection activity. She passed out large puzzle pieces and told us to write something we learned, something we felt, and some change we will make within ourselves or in the world after the Convergence. I could feel a warm and generous spirit in the room as we assembled the puzzle and shared our reflections, some of which I’ve included below.
- I learned that we can have difficult conversations in a way that can bring understanding to everyone involved and also have fun too.
- I learned that with a little bit of work and a lot of love people from distinctly different backgrounds can establish common truths.
- Warmth, community, authenticity
- Mindset change from confused and conflicted to inspired and supported
- Invigorated and reminded of why I’m involved with this type of work and why I couldn’t live without it.
- A change I will make will be to stop seeking out the perfect role I think about for myself, and instead jump right in and walk the path towards finding it. I will actively attempt to bootstrap!!
- I feel more empowered to make the changes in my life that will enable me to better align my lifestyle with my values.
At Convergence I felt empowered by the friendship and teamwork we had built amongst the team at KI in creating a transformative learning experience. What I learned shifted my focus from organizing people on the large scale to focusing on building the depth of powerful friendships through working from the perspective of an educator. The change I will make in the world coming out of Convergence is to use the tools I’ve gained from my many journeys, teachers, and friends to add to KI’s work of transforming the world one person at a time.