Friday, November 11, 2011

Colombia 101

I just returned from Colombia and had a fantastic time at the 2nd Annual World Youth Summit on Volunteering. There were people from all over the world in attendance, wanting to know the best practices pertaining to volunteering. Experts in policy, social media, global poverty, and many more came to enlighten over 800 people about ways they could better increase volunteer efforts in their country. Now, we all know my life is not made entirely of chance, so go with me on this phenomenal networking journey.

Day 1:

The flight in was pretty good. While at the airport in Kansas City, I had lunch with a lady who was also waiting for a flight. After talking, we realize our meeting was not by chance. Her sister is a founding partner of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, and was the former Executive Director of the United Cerebral Palsy Foundation. Sadly, I wrote her contact info on a napkin and it got thrown away by accident. Darn! Hopefully, she didn’t lose my info and decides to contact me.

From KS, I head to Dallas, and then from Dallas, I stop in Miami. In these airports, I meet people from Haiti, Egypt, and Nigeria. With each person, I ask about their culture and what an everyday tourist should know before visiting their home. While each person has interesting and unique answers, there was one common theme: visitors should come open-minded and willing to learn.. Don’t assume that you (western influence) need to save them or teach them anything. I thought this was brilliant food for thought…

After leaving Miami, I am finally in Barranquilla, Colombia!

Colombia is breath taking. The humidity took me back to the days of Costa Rica with long walks, gorgeous landscape, and indiscernible scenery. I was finally reunited with fresh produce, friendly people, and phenomenal dancing.


Day 2:

Not realizing what time the bus would pick me up from the hotel, I awake to realize that the bus had come at 7:00 am! In a panic, I rush down to the lobby and ask someone to grab a taxi for me. I am standing at the desk in the lobby when another man shares the same sentiment about needing a taxi to the Summit. We agree to split a taxi and head to the university. On the ride there, we pass a horse and buggy carrying fresh avocados. We were so close, I actually stuck my hand out and touched the buggy. Yes, I know, not safe, but I was just so tempted. Anyway, during the drive, we discuss our backgrounds and Michael shares with me that he is the winner of the Your Big Year competition. Your Big Year is a contest in which a person must travel the world for one year, and participate in community service projects for disadvantaged areas. They winner must visit 25 countries in this one-year time span.

Phenomenal. I hope to research this competition and apply.

Colombia definitely has Costa Rica beat in terms of extreme driving. If you think your car can fit, go for it. If you don't think it can’t fit, go for it anyway. There are no lines on the street, so you just cruise where you can and slam on the brakes when needed. I often wonder if that's what people feel when I drive in the States, but I think they over exaggerate.

Day 3

I head to the university and sit at a table for lunch. I was starting to get nervous about my presentation. It was only two days away and I wanted to meet the person who would be presenting with me. My presentation would be following the State Secretary of Sports and Youth of Minas Gerais for Brazil, so I had big shoes to fill. By chance, the lady sitting next to me happened to be the State Secretary! We discussed our presentations, did a quick run through, and decided to check out Colombia.

A Summit volunteer escorted us out of the school and grabbed a cab for us. Getting me in a tiny car is tough, but is especially complicated when the other passenger uses a wheelchair and the car is a pinto. Rosiana and I almost tore that taxi into scrap metal between her wheelchair being tied to the roof and my 6’ 2” frame squeezing into the back seat. Luckily, people in Colombia have no trouble getting “hands on” in terms of helping others, so Daniel shoved me in the back of this cab. Now, I don’t know if I was giving specific enough instructions, but for some reason, when I would say, “Push!”, he would lift my leg up. So by the end of this, I was in the car with my left foot touching the ceiling of the cab. Scared that I would kick the taxi driver in the back of the neck, we somehow ended my back seat acrobatics and situated me in a safe position.

We headed to the local art market and paid our taxi driver to stay with us as our personal shopper and assistant. We then ended that night at a new seafood place in town where I enjoyed fresh calamari and a few glasses of fresh squeezed blackberry juice. Scrumptious.

Day 4

From all the walking yesterday, I was pretty immobile and had to stay inside the hotel. I still, even after 24 years, have yet figured out my limit in terms of endurance. Well, maybe I have and just choose to ignore it. I don’t want to miss out on anything, so I just keep pushing even if it means a day in bed later. Yeah, that doesn't make sense. ßThings Shawn need to work on!

Day 5

Today is my presentation!

I had a difficult time deciding how I was going to approach my presentation, but it came together perfectly the day before after speaking with people and learning their understanding of a disability. The presentation was educational, fun, thought provoking, and received great feedback.

One of the most surprising things that happened was the amount of buzz my presence caused. The day of my presentation, I decided to meet in the main gala hall where all the participants were sitting while listening to the keynote speaker. I came through the back door and sit at a table behind the crowd. Then a custodial worker comes up and asked to take a picture with me. I laugh and take the picture and refocus on the speaker. Seconds later, a couple comes up and asks for my picture as well. Not sure what's going on, I take a picture and try to listen to the speaker. This goes on for a few more minutes, until I notice there is a line of 20+ people standing around my table asking for pictures, my email, and an autograph. Once lunch was served, staff asked people to hold off on things for at least 20 minutes so I could eat. Once finished, the line grew even larger. By the end of the day, I had taken at least 150 pictures with people who I now consider my international friends.

Unsure of the commotion, I start telling people where I am from and where I work, attend school, etc. I wanted to make sure they didn’t think I was someone important that they might have confused me for, but they hadn’t. Now my friends and I joke that I am a triple threat – big, black, and disabled – and with that combination, I am always going to draw attention. But this time, I wasn’t the biggest person there, nor the only black person, or person with a disability.

However, it is through those moments that I realized why I was there. Yes, people wanted pictures with me, but the pictures weren’t about me per se. The commotion was about what I represented to them.

Potential. Growth. Hope.

Seeing someone with a disability traveling internationally, without assistance, gave them hope in what others with disabilities in their country could do. It encouraged them to grow a community of support and advocacy for each other, showed them the potential of what could be accomplished on the individual, community, and political levels with the right support systems.

I hope to continue this journey of empowerment and education for those who need it the most. One step to do that will be through my recent appointment to the Statewide Independent Living Council. This month, Governor Brownback appointed me to this position and I am honored to serve as a Representative of my fellow Kansans with disabilities.

Our next adventure awaits in Washington, D.C.! Tomorrow I head to the district as part of a week long social media training. The training focuses on establishing online campaign for disadvantaged populations. Check it out here: NOI Training.

Until then,


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

We're going to Colombia!

The country, not the city in Missouri...

I am more than excited to present at the 2nd Annual International Association of Volunteer Efforts, World Youth Summit in Barranquilla, Colombia!

This conference brings people from volunteer initiatives and organizations around the world together to learn from experts about the key components of leading volunteer efforts. Focused on youth volunteerism for those with disabilities, the objective of this workshop is to provide international organizations seeking to establish new or expand existing volunteer programs a new target population in which to recruit. While highlighting effective volunteer programs that are targeting people with disabilities in the United States, this presentation is designed to encourage the recruitment of young adult volunteers with disabilities abroad. It is also its intention to help decrease barriers and enhance the international volunteer experience. Seven keys areas will be explored:

1) A Youthful Perspective of Volunteering Abroad: Voluntourism 101
2) Recruiting Volunteers with Disabilities
3) Where to Begin
4) What Every Organization Should Know Before You Begin
5) Successfully Navigating the Needs of Volunteers with Disabilities
6) From the Perspective of the Volunteer – What’s In It for Me!
7) How to Begin Your International Volunteer Program Targeting Young Adults with Disabilities

Sounds intense, right?

I was told today that I am a loud voice for people who are often quiet, so I think this presentation gives a voice to what many people need to know. It is my hope that people learn more than just the seven points of discussion, and instead leave with a new understanding of the contributions that people who are different can make. If you want to make a difference in your community, here's where to start:

You have a responsibility to advocate for the communities in which you represent. As an African American with a disability, I advocate for both people with disabilities and African Americans. So if you ever want to stand behind a cause, you must first stand behind yourself and who you represent. Once you advocate effectively for yourself, you can be a more effective voice for others. There are easy ways to get involved and make a difference, as not everything needs to be world-changing or brilliantly thought-provoking.

Start small...

When thinking about the areas of intervention for positive change, I believe there are three key areas to consider: the individual, the community, and the government. How can you as an individual make a positive impact? How can your community cultivate positive change? How can we influence policy to encourage positive outcomes?

Give some thought to those questions and tell me what you come up with. I'll be challenging my audience in Colombia with the same questions and I'll be sure to share their thoughts with you.

It still amazing me that we're going on this journey! If you want to find out more information on this conference, I encourage you to visit In the meantime, just remember that even a small change can make a huge impact.

I'm jumping on the plane in 4 hours, so my next post will be from the Colombia!


Monday, September 5, 2011

I'm back...Now let's get to work!




All of these words have been used to describe my recent journey to Costa Rica. Although it was by far the greatest discussion I've created in my adult life thus far, those words feel a little too strong for me. To put it more simply, I would label my Costa Rican adventure as a learning experience. It helped me to learn the power that one person can have if truly determined. I learned that people who make a small contribution could have a big impact on the world. I now know that it's not our job to search for our purpose in life, but to be patient, diligent, and humble enough to let it present itself to us. Never in my life did I think this two-month journey would pave a path for knowledge, self-discovery, and personal growth, but it did.

Due to this experience, I also learned to be mindful of your words. In a blog post prior to arriving in Costa Rica, I wrote about my expectations for the journey. I wanted to evoke a new thought process concerning those with disabilities, and because of my posts that was accomplished. International organizations, universities, and political leaders have now taken note of the issues concerning travelers with disabilities. However, I didn't expect any of that to happen so quickly, nor did I anticipate the responsibility that comes with such a huge expectation.

That responsibility is now something I feel charged with and have decided that it's time to work toward making a positive change in disadvantaged areas as I had originally promised.

An international network, Partners of the Americas, works to connect individuals, volunteers, institutions, businesses, and communities in order to change lives through lasting partnerships. Joining with the International Association for Volunteer Efforts and many other volunteer-centered organizations, Partners of the Americas host a World Youth Summit on volunteering. The summit brings together youth from around the world to learn best practices and to share collaborative ideas in the areas of social justice, economic development, entrepreneurship, and much more. One the categories most interesting to me focused on the social inclusion of people with disabilities. I was not only surprised to see disability as a topic of interest, but highly encouraged by it. Wanting to be more involved, I applied to be a presenter. If chosen, I will speak about international volunteerism and disability. I should hear back any day now, so keep your fingers crossed.

Along with that effort, I founded an organization, Against the Odds (ATO), when I was in high school. ATO focuses on accessible play equipment in playgrounds throughout my hometown. My classmates in an English class inspired me to form this organization. One day, our teacher asked us which park in town was our childhood favorite. Aware of my disability and the limitations it caused growing up, I bluntly said, "None. I could never get to any of the equipment." It was through the glares of apathy of my classmates that I realized I had missed out on something spectacular. "You've NEVER gone down a slide or played on monkey bars?" was the question they asked me.


That day, I went to my mentor, started a local campaign, and scheduled meetings with city officials. Within one year, ATO raised $3000 through a single mailing push. Senator Dole and Vice Presidential hopeful, John Kerry, were both major financial supporters. Having a glimpse of what a few well-written words accompanied by a 42-cent stamp could do, I imagined what could be accomplished on a larger scale.

One day, I read an article that talked about children with disabilities in Africa. I can remember the horror that overtook me when reading that children with disabilities in some parts of the country are thrown to animals or left for dead if thought to have a disability. The lack of education and resources have left many to believe that those with disabilities are not capable of being a contribution to society, and therefore, must be left for dead. Thus, New Horizons Academy for the Exceptional (NHA) came into existence. Teaching grades K-5, NHA will utilize the most dedicated teachers to not only teach academics, but to instill pride, determination, and perseverance in these future world leaders. These children will learn to celebrate their differences and share that knowledge with others who they encounter. I plan to visit Africa in the summer of 2012 to begin the groundwork for the academy. As I meet with designers, attorneys, and educators in the next few months, I'll make sure you're kept in the loop. I am beyond excited about the changes that I hope to bring to those with disabilities around the world!

In next week’s blog, I'll take you back to Costa Rica and tell you all the other details of my trip.

Let's just say, this boy can dance...

Until then,


Ps...Be sure to "Like" Impaired Travels on Facebook by clicking the like on the right of my blog!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

When the world says, "Give up," Hope whispers, "Try it one more time."

First, I want to thank everyone for their prayers, messages, and words of support lately. I do have a lot to update you on, but I will start with my most recent issues and catch you all up on the past weeks in the weeks to come.

I’ve had many obstacles in my life, so I have never been one to quickly throw in the towel, but this situation brought a whole new meaning to the word “determination”. Costa Rica is a not an accessible country. Sidewalks rarely are even, let alone fully paved, or existent. This, along with that fact that I had to move two days after classes started, brought a great deal of stress. The home I was in suffered major water damage to the walls in my room, posing major electrical issues and safety concerns for myself. Unable to find any other accessible home close to the school, I was moved to student housing - alone. I am the only person in the building, with no security, no neighbor, absolutely no one. No one else is here until the middle of July, so it is a little alarming to think of what I would do in an emergency with no one around. This building, like many others in Costa Rica, is not accessible. The walk to school consists of a steep hill with faulty sidewalks, which I now choose to ignore and instead just walk on the side of the street. Until recently, I was unsure of where to find meals, toiletries, or even a phone to ask for help. These are all comforts we take for granted.

However, if you want to work on your relationship with Christ - move away from everything you know, everything that’s comfortable and familiar, and see who you call on. Together with Him, you will watch yourself grow.

I recently found out that there is no possibility of being placed with a host family. With this, I would have to pay for all living expenses (meals, laundry, housing) independently and not directly to the school. The feasibility of this option is unknown because I don’t know the country well enough to handle all of those things. At this point, it was recommended that I end my program and return home at the end of June. But, I have so much more work here to do before I feel I can go. As of today, I am crunching numbers to see what I can work out. In my discussion with staff, I told them that even though this was not right, I was glad that this happened to me. I never want another student with a disability to undergo the obstacles I have had while here. I would live with roaches, uneven stairs, faulty sidewalks, and near hit-and-runs for a year if it meant another person with a disability had a positive, worry free experience studying abroad, and never go through what I have been enduring. Constant reminders of loneliness send a strong message about the lack of appreciation, acceptance, and overall value contributed to people with disabilities.

Each missing curb cut says... I’m not here.
Each flight of stairs with no ramp says... I'm not wanted here.
Each office building without an elevator says... I’m not good enough to work for them.

Despite the University's endless work to make things more enjoyable, this is the message I’ve inadvertently received while here. More importantly, this is the message that Costa Ricans with disabilities have been receiving their entire lives. These very messages are also why I feel I should stay.

Last week, I went to the grocery store. I saw a young man with a profound case of cerebral palsy. He could not speak or walk. In the states, there are accessible vans. But here, this man, only a few years younger than me, was thrown into the backseat of a cargo van with nothing but hospital restraints and duct tape to hold him steady. At first, I was mortified. But then I realized that this is the level of resources that this country has available. This level of treatment is the only thing they know. They, like the University and many other third-world countries, have no other options.

This struck a chord with me. The condition of the young man very well may have been the condition that I could have experienced. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy after being born 3 months early, my parents were told that I would live a very limited life. However, with all of the prayers and resources that were available, I was able to break free from those limitations and challenge myself on levels that were originally seen as impossible. If I had not had access medical professionals and community resources, coupled with the power of prayer, I too could be taped to the backset of a cargo van. And without resources here in Costa Rica, prayer is all people are left with. Although prayer is a very powerful thing, these people also deserve to have faith in their country's ability to help them achieve their greatest potential.

That is why I believe I am here. My original goal was to simply explore a country and learn from its culture, and maybe educate a few of my peers, but now it has grown into something much larger. Through my long talks with Christ, I now know that I am here to be an advocate for all of those here in Costa Rica with disabilities. I know that the path to acceptance and acknowledgment will be a long one that will require more than just me... but I am ready and willing to be the first to start walking.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Semana #1

This marks my first week in Costa Rica - and believe me, it has been an adventure. I’ll try to give you the major highlights of my week all in one.

Many of the people have blue-green or sometimes blue eyes, which is a sign of European influence. When the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in Costa Rica, the natives were rebels and refused to accept them as their masters. Instead of staying and working for the Europeans, the natives left Costa Rica moving north or south. Thus, the indigenous population decreased dramatically by more than 95% when the Europeans arrived. Many Europeans found themselves plowing and working their own lands, and soon discovered that growing coffee and bananas was a great business. The government started giving away land to people who were willing to grow coffee, so more Europeans immigrated to Costa Rica. Since there were very few native people, less mixing of the two cultures occurred, therefore a vast majority of Costa Ricans are predominantly of European descent: Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and French. There is also a large number of Costa Ricans of German, Jewish, Polish, and Greek descent.

Now that I’ve finished my history lesson, I’ll get back to the fun stuff =)

The fashion is clearly influenced from the U.S., which I find a little disappointing. I wanted to see native accents or influence around, but I guess I would have to go to less urbanized areas. Very few Tico’s (Costa Ricans) wear shorts; everyone wears skinny jeans, gray/silver wash, and boots (not cowboyish) – despite the heat. American Eagle is extremely popular and I definitely will be purchasing a pair of distressed leather boats before I head back to the states. The people don’t stare, which is a nice change from the folks back home. The most attention I’ve gotten is people saying they like my hair. When walking the other day, a lady said she had some just like mine and proceeded to pull some weave out of her purse. Hilarious. I like not being a spectacle. Blending in will help me get the most out of this experience.

I have also met a group of about 15 kids from Minnesota. They had been here for 3 days, and knew no Spanish. They were going to be here for three weeks, and seemed overwhelmed by the heat... which holds nothing to the heat in Kansas. When asking how long I would be here and with whom, they were quite taken back when I said 3 months and that I came with no one.

“Wow. Adventurous," one girl responded.

I now wonder if I’m being adventurous, brave, or just plain stupid. I don’t know anyone that just goes to another country without any contacts, previous know how, or any real knowledge of the area. However, I think Zig Ziglar describes it best when he said, ‎"Courage is not the absence of fear; it's the mastery of it." I think over the next 3 months I’ll know which one is the right answer.

The mall here is very much like the ones in Kansas. They have lots of stores all claiming huge discounts, but there are a few good steals. We walk out of the mall to grab a taxi and witnessed WWI Costa Rican style. I don’t know what the exchange was about, but from what I gathered one guy claimed that the other stole his customers (us). Before I could even get my car door open, the guy ran to the other guy yelling at the top of his lungs and pushed him out into the street. I was the only person captivated by this exchange while others just walked past like nothing was happening. Then the guy slapped the other guy’s cellphone out of his hand and it flew into the bushes. I was trying to get my camera on video mode so I could record this, but Jamie told me to get in the car. Lame. Once in a different car, our drivers honked at the two fighting men and waved as to say “Gotcha!" He then took us on the scenic route to the Artisan market while nearly hitting a group of 30 people. One lady literally reached in and touched him he was so close.

The artisan market was a hoarders dream. Everything from jewelry, crafts, and candles, to hammocks, purses, and dresses were crammed into a tent extending ½ a block long. There were at least 20 vendors claiming to give you a better deal with higher quality goods than the person standing next to them. Being a shrewd business man like my father, I got a pretty good deal on some street art. I like being able to haggle with people, although, I probably could have gotten an even better deal if I understood the currency. The market was a true cultural mecca with languages from around the world flooding the block: Italian, Chinese, and Swahili dialects made this simple art market a world of its own.

Overall, this week has been a tad challenging for me. I’m learning to pace myself and go with the flow. I think we tend to put so much emphasis on the change we hope to bring to a situation versus letting ourselves change, evolve, and grow. Challenge yourself to slow down and live in the moment.

Take care of yourself at home and I am praying for everyone affected by the tornadoes.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

So far - so good!

So, I made it! Costa Rica is stunning. Parks and little colonies rest amongst mountains and gorgeous landscape. The homes have an obvious Spanish feel and are painted in different shades of terracotta, the constant rain washes out the color so everything looks aged and antiqued - it is especially gorgeous. You then notice flowers in the most vibrant colors; hues of red, orange, purple and pink burst from the mountains. I love it.

During in my flight to Costa Rica from North Carolina, I am sitting next to a complete jerk. All he talked about was how drunk he was on the previous flight and that the flight attendants love it when he calls them sweetheart. I proceeded to give him a look that let him know how ignorant I thought he was - he proceeded to order 3 Bloody Marys.

Once the plane landed I had a quick thought of "Oh snap, I guess I can't change my mind now." It was interesting. I never had a true panic attack about this trip which put me at ease. I think it's the right thing to do during this time in my life. I went through customs and found it hilarious. The lady asked me how many days I will be in the country and I responded “Noventa dias. Estudiando español en la Universidad de Veritas”. (90 days. I am studying Spanish at the University of Veritas). Pretty impressed with myself for that. She then asked me another question and I gave her a look that truly solidified the word confused. She then rolled her eyes and WENT OFF to the person carrying my luggage. There are no words to express how funny it is when you know someone is talking trash about you, but you can't get mad because you have no idea what they are saying! I just smiled and said “Gracias!” - I aced that test for sure.

Once that I was over, I head outside expecting to see a sign with my name on it like many other exchange students who were waiting, but there wasn’t one. Apparently, the University entered my arrival date differently, swapping the numbers of the month and day. Mistakes happen, and I just rolled with the punches because I had no other option. I’m glad I knew enough Spanish to ask for help. A taxi driver was nice enough to let me use his cellphone to call the school who was supposed to arrange my pick up. No one answered. Luckily, I had my host family’s number stored because I tried calling them the other day after the earthquake hit. He called them, and we arranged for a taxi to take me there.

This is where the fun begins. These people drive just as crazy as I do! Turn signals, blind spots, speed limits? Get real. Never in my life have I gone in reverse on a highway going 65 miles per hour – until now. My jaw was unhinged, when I looked at him, he just gave me thumbs up. All I do could was laugh and say a quick prayer. To experience this, I want you to put your car in reverse and lay on the gas while driving on K-7. It will change your life. I had read that the people of Costa Rica were aggressive drivers, but they truly have won the cake in comparison to DC and NYC drivers. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death in Costa Rica.

My host family is fantastic. Letty and Juan have been doing this for nearly 20 years and have hosted students of many backgrounds. She is a dentist, while he is an engineer. They know more English then they let on, only because they truly want us to learn the language. I appreciate that. We have breakfast and dinner together every day. Breakfast consist of fresh fruit, homemade bread, omelets, and fruit juice. All of this is fresh and made daily. Letty literally peels and cores a pineapple every day and makes fresh juice. It is by far the best thing I've ever had, and you can't beat waking up to the smell of freshly baked bread.

These first 24 hours have been amazing. I know this is typical of the 4 stages in culture shock; excitement, withdrawal, adjustment, and enthusiasm, but I'm just gonna take it as it comes and goes. I'm going to the school tomorrow to meet with the travel agency and learn about a couple weekend excursions; maybe my next post will be from Panama! I miss you all already and appreciate your love and prayer from afar!


Saturday, May 14, 2011

3 months? I thought you were leaving for 2 weeks?!

Passport - check

Plane ticket - check

Host family info - check

Automatic bill payments - Hmm?

Utilities payments - Uhhhh...

Place to live once back in the states - Umm...well?

The week leading up to this trip has been one of my busiest: finals, work, family time, financial planning, - all needed to be done prior to this trip. I was doing pretty good with this juggling act until 2am a couple weeks ago when I realized I hadn't prepared a for my re- emersion, as I had my emersion. While focusing on making sure I had the plans for Costa Rica set, I forgot about maintaining things here in the U.S. during my absence to ensuring a pleasant return. How fun would have been to come back and see all of my belongings in the dumpster because I was evicted? Pure genius

Coupled with my lapse in maintaining "home security", I had been avoiding packing since the day I signed up for this trip. One day, however when having lunch with my mentor, we began to discuss the real reason behind this avoidance.


It's not fun to pack when it becomes a game of "I wonder if this fits?" I want to lead a healthy life in every aspect. I believe God has an amazing plan for my life, but I can't accomplish any of those things without being spiritually, physically, and mentally healthy. I think we all do this to ourselves. We avoid things that force us to look at our flaws. It is through this experience I hope to face the uncomfortable things in my life. Being a person with a disability has caused me to live a shelters life full of supports and safety nets. It will be interesting to see how I catch my fall versus waiting on someone to catch me.

Mother Nature must be mimicking my emotional state because she sent an earthquake down to warn the people that I was heading in their direction....seriously. A town 16 miles away from where I'll be living just got hit with a 6.0 earthquake. Only in the life of Shawn, right? I was unable to get through to my family via phone, so hopefully they'll respond to my email before I on the plane. Please keep the people of Costa Rica in your prayers.

Sunday morning will be here before I know it (only a few more hours)! I have no doubt that this trip is just the first chapter of my international journeys. Let’s just hope Mother Nature and I both get our acts together in time.

Hang on people, this blog and this experience is the first of many adventures to come.


Ps…here’s my address for those who have been asking.

Universidad Veritas

1 km al oeste de la Casa Presidencial

Apartado 1380-1000 San Jose, Costa Rica

Friday, April 29, 2011

¡Aquí vamos! (Here we go!)

My life is one of many experiences. Living with an open mind has allowed me to experience life in a way that encourages growth and understanding. Throughout my life and time at Washburn, I've been blessed with the opportunity of meeting many wonderful people who work endlessly to make learning unique and valuable for each student.

The Washburn Transformation Experience is one the avenues that encourages learning for the individual. Two summers ago, through AmeriCorps, I worked at a youth empowerment camp in Topeka, KS. I was charged with mentoring children, aiding in academic activities, and planning field trips. Little did I know that those two months would literally transform my life.

One day while serving lunch, my friend (as I called all the kids) came to me and asked why I was drinking from a soda can. These kids have vivid imaginations, so I told him I was thirsty, and then asked him what he would do with it.

"Well, my Dad cuts it open, uses his special needle, and takes his medicine with it"

The "medicine" my 9 year old friend was referring to was heroin use. Shocked, I sit and listen as a boy who can barely remember to write from left-to-right gives my step by step instruction on how his Dad takes his "medicine" on a daily basis.

Transformational? I think so.

As many of you know, in 2 weeks I will head to Costa Rica as an exchange student as part of a language and culture immersion program. I will be taking classes, traveling to different countries throughout Central America, and living with a family that is Spanish speaking only. As Washburn was sponsoring a 10-day trip, and I wanted to undergo an experience I could remember and cherish something more than a few days, I contacted a school, sent a few emails, and booked a flight from May 15th to August 15th. I have no clue what this journey will bring, but eagerly greet the challenge. I am aware that it will be challenging, shocking, and emotionally taxing, but I believe that one leaves a strong legacy by the challenges they overcome.

Immersion is defined as a state of being deeply engaged or involved; absorption. As I think of what this immersion will consist of, I feel anxiety and excitement all in one. I hope to leave this experience engaged in a deeper meaning of myself and my purpose. I hope be involved with a new culture and gain an appreciation for new ideas, customs, and thoughts. I hope to absorb this experience as it comes with all it entails.

I have no doubt that I too will transform those I encounter while away. According to John C. Maxwell author of Leadership 101, each of us influences at least ten thousand people in our lifetime, and we must determine carefully how we will use that influence. I have been blessed with a contagious laugh, a one of a kind strut, and vivid personality. Over time I have learned to use these attributes to stir a dialogue that evokes a new thought process for others. It is my hope that meeting me will challenge ones beliefs not only about African American males, but also people with disabilities and those who stand out simply as different; those causing you raise an eyebrow as they walk by.

As I enter into this next chapter of my life, I enter as before - with no preconceived notions or expectations. I think I will simply relax and enjoy, letting life write this chapter, celebrating each role I am fortunate enough to play.