You’ve heard: Everyone is “one of a kind”. No matter how many times we have been told, most people reject the celebration of diversity. Like many, the importance of individuality was never obvious to me. I had meandered through life attempting to assimilate, trying to dial down any novelty about me. I did not see that I was more than lucky to live in the college town of Ann Arbor, renowned for its spectrum of ideals. It was not until I left Ann Arbor the summer of my junior year that I had the fortune of discovering the significance of diversity.
There were twelve of us; all of us had signed up for the test of our lives, thirty two days in Central American backcountry. We were there to learn – with an intensive Wilderness First Responder Course in the jungles along the Pacuare River, and to serve – with a school for the Santeña tribe on Bocas del Toro, but those initiatives merely provided a background to the main event. Away from our friends, family, and the basic comfort we were accustomed to, our interactions were intensified. We were more vulnerable. We put down the masks worn at home, used to fit in, and which, in turn, blocked our view of diversity.
Of the hundreds of relationships I’ve had, the ones on this trip seemed to be the most frustrating, and the most diverse. Not only diverse in race and cultures, we were diverse in mannerisms and values. The party-boy from Dubai lived free, did whatever he wanted, no consequences. The quiet kid from Seattle was content stealing things no one would miss. The gamer from Jersey was forever childlike, questioning everything. I could not choose who was accompanying me, I was stuck. Stuck in a constant tug of war on how to study for the WFR test, repair the school, even how to wash the dishes after meals.
We could not continue to spend the summer separated, when all we had was each other. Our solution came quietly. We found our separate niches, recognized our strengths and weaknesses. We changed study methods, opening our eyes to different ways to learn. We formed groups to tackle projects on the school, teams of those who led the creation of an electricity-less water system and those who withstood the thousands of identical paint strokes on the school. We washed the dishes in alternating groups. We learned to take the time to embrace our different ideas and work together.
Finally, the day written on our plane tickets came. One by one, my eleven sparring partners were swept home. With every goodbye, I realized how our perspectives made us a perfect group. When stripped of our comfortable lifestyle, ideas like diversity, previously on the back burner, were as important as anything else. We had to fight and find solutions; we were diversity at its finest. I was given the privilege to grow, responsibility to evolve, and the chance to appreciate being “one of a kind”.
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