The LIFE Program impacted me in so many ways--personally, professionally and spiritually. I didn't really know what to expect-- I had signed up for it because I was looking to travel, to get some experience working abroad and to find some direction career-wise. First of all, LIFE is an incredible bonding experience. My fellow LIFE-ers are friends for, um, life. We had many adventures together-- some funny, some overwhelming, some eye-opening--and now I look back on them with nostalgia. I am full of stories from my year with LIFE, stories which have not only come in handy at parties, but have set me apart at networking events, interviews, and other professional activities. When I returned from LIFE and began looking for jobs, everyone seemed incredibly intrigued by this program and what I had learned from it.
I think each one of us got something different from the program, but I can say that, for me, the LIFE program brought me out of my comfort zone in a number of ways. I became more adaptable, resourceful and imaginative than I was before the program. I learned to be a better listener. Specifically, when I was working in a culture and context that was unfamiliar-- such as I was in rural India with an educational organization or practically on the Green Line with a peace-building organization in Jerusalem-- I had to change my habits. For example, in India, although I had a bunch of theories about what might improve the educational system in a rural village, mostly from books and articles, I learned to interrupt my tendency to assume, and to simply observe. In fact, my interviewing skills greatly improved. My final project from my time in India is one of my greatest achievements--I pride myself on having collected a number of people's stories, opinions and experiences and then adding my own contributions, creating a final result that is truly useful to the organization where I worked.
My boss in particular was very inspirational to me--my favorite memories are of watching her conduct field work in middle-of-nowhere villages or taking care of business back in Hyderabad. She taught me a lot, but one thing that has really stuck with me was something that she said one night while we were working in rural Maharashtra. I had exclaimed that the moon looked differently than it did at home (sideways, like a Cheshire cat smile, instead of the "sliver" shape that we're used to), and she responded, "That's why I love having foreigners on my team! You guys always see things differently!" And she was right. The greatest thing I had to offer was my unique perspective, and my most significant gains were the perspectives of others.
It's very difficult for me to describe my time with LIFE because so much happened in that one year. I can say for sure that I'd be a different person if I hadn't done the program. It expanded my horizons in so many ways. I can't imagine not having the incredible people in my life that I do now, and I can't imagine what my worldview would be without the numerous experiences that rocked my world, making me see even the smallest things differently. In summary, I think that LIFE changed mine in a very pivotal and productive way.