Slovakia is a place I never knew existed until I was invited to tag along on an unforgettable experience.Through the organization Josaiah Venture, my church, Northstar Church of Kennesaw, Georgia, planned a two-week mission trip for July 2011, during which we traveled to the country of Slovakia to teach English to a group of Slovak students and spend time sharing cultures at a youth camp.
Though at first daunted, I prepared for many months, gathering financial support and purchasing the supplies needed. Even with not much money saved and my family suffering from financial struggles, I believed that the hard work I put forward would pay off. When I finally embarked on my journey, I realized that here in America I had really been missing out. Seeing a new culture, a new lifestyle, for the first time is unbelievably incredible. I got to tour Vienna, Austria, hike up a five-mile mountain during my stay in Košice,Slovakia, and finally see a piece of the rest of the world. I even got to stay in a Slovak home and eat all of their homemade Slovak meals, such as the traditional dish of haluski . The English class I taught was filled with young Slovak students with a bright future and heart for others. They made me feel so welcomed in just a couple of minutes and once we began learning together, we built bonds beyond time and place. What’s amazing is that these people are still feeling the aftermath of the fall of communism and though these people may not have much, they have such a positive and inspiring attitude that made me rethink the blessings we are given in America that so many take advantage of. The humble and earnest faces of the Slovak students and families I met are forever stamped in my mind.
During our travels, we faced challenges I had never anticipated. One girl being injured after jumping off a moving train, a whole group of students and church volunteers suffering from food poisoning, and one of our leaders being hospitalized from a kidney stone were only the beginning. Besides physical challenges of exhaustion and sickness, many of us faced mental and emotional challenges as we realized this new world we discovered would eventually have to be left behind. I spent a bit of time alone in my dormitory room, crying over the fact that these people had become so special to me and I may never have the chance to see them again.
On the plane ride back to Georgia last week, I didn’t want to return. Being a part of the Slovak community for those couple of weeks made me feel so at home- perhaps even more at home than I feel in my own town. If there’s one thing I now know, it’s that when you find a place where you feel so whole and at peace, it’s impossible to leave it behind for good. This is why I’ll be hopefully returning next summer to Slovakia as a two-month intern. Until my chance to revisit these people comes, I will continue to remember the experience I had and the things I gained from it, such as gratitude, the appreciation for diversity, and friendship.
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