I am writing this post from our hotel in Hawaii. We have already started the long trek home (traveling 9 ½ hours so far with another 11 to go) and once again the end of the trip has crept up and then flown right by me. I am sad to see the trip end but I am excited about returning home. I miss my amazing wife Jennifer and our kids Nathan, Taylor and Kaleigh. I’m really looking forward to spending some quality time with them in the coming days and weeks (including a nice trip up to Wisconsin). Before I can turn the page I still have several stories to tell about this year’s trip to Yap. Although it looks like most of those will have to wait till we return home I did want to post one more time before completing our last few flights home. This post is devoted to the students of Team Yap 2014.
Now, I’ve been lucky enough to travel with some fantastic young men and women on all my JBIP trips (Italy 08’, Vietnam 12’ and Yap 11’, 13’ and 14’). Team Yap 2014 will definitely go down as a very special group of students. Although some of the JBIP trips are a first-come/first-serve opportunity the Micronesia trip is quite different. Students have to go through an application and interview process. This process is important because of our living situation on Yap and the nature of this trip. Students need to understand exactly what to expect (as much as possible) about this service focused trip before making the commitment. For many students interested in Yap this trip is just not the right fit for them. To start we have a unique living situation compared to the other JBIP
trips. We live in a community house for the Palauan community that contains three rooms. The largest room is our “living room/bedroom” where we live, work and sleep (on cots, faculty and students sharing the same space). There is no air conditioning though we do have fans to make it comfortable during the day and at night. We have a basic kitchen that has a fridge, water cooler, two burner hot plate and toaster oven (that you can’t use at the same time as the two burner hot plate). Finally we have a bathroom with two toilets and one shower (with no mirror or hot water). We are very lucky and fortunate to have use of this community house while on Yap and owe our local counterparts a great deal of gratitude. In addition to the inside we do have a nice porch and an amazing view of the reef flat and ocean from our house. Regardless, for many, this type of living arrangement for 3 weeks would be quite challenging. For an enjoyable and successful trip a strong sense of community is critical. Team Yap 2014 can be described as not only a perfect example of a cohesive community but more of a supportive and loving family. We knew we had a strong group during our Spring prep course. That feeling was reinforced shortly after arriving in Yap. As we were unpacking and setting up our cots Reed, Lynn and I were given “Team Yap 2014” tie-dye shirts (a special thank you to Brooke for making them for the faculty). Next, on the 2nd night in Yap when the students were still learning the ropes they organized and prepared a “family” spaghetti meal with ease. They were supportive and there for each other when home sickness snuck into their day or when some were exhausted or dealing with minor injuries and sunburn. When one student needed help there was always someone there to step up. There were no cliques or isolation. House issues were resolved in our team meetings and no one had a
“me first” mentality. Some may wonder if members of this group were perhaps good friends before the prep-course or trip. Well, although they certainly knew each other I think it is fair to say that they were not necessarily all good friends before last January. Our group of 12 came from Michigan, California, Illinois, Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania as well as warm and sunny Iceland. The students cover 8 majors (Biology, Environmental Science/Studies, Elementary Education, Exercise and Sport Science, Nursing, Psychology, Allied Health and Communication). We have students on three different collegiate teams (basketball, soccer and golf) and three different sororities. In all my years teaching and traveling with students I have not seen a better example of a diverse group of students coming together to form a cohesive group, community, and family as that demonstrated by Team Yap 2014.
On our last night in Yap students sat around our folding table on the porch and shared one of their final journal entries. Students were asked to write about one thing they learned on this trip (about Yap, themselves, the group, etc.). Many students were brought to tears as each shared their reflections from the funny to the life altering. Although I did not share any thoughts with the group at the time I want to finish this post with what I learned and took away from each member of our team. Some of these lessons are not new to me though I can tell it was clear the good lord was sending me a reminder. To the students of Team Yap 2014 here are my final reflections:
Abby: I learned that faith in god, selflessness and always viewing life (even the mundane) with at least a small sense of awe and wonder is the best approach to living life to the fullest each day.
Diamond: I learned that a no-quit attitude and the ability to adapt are paramount to a healthy mind and spirit.
Macie: I learned to approach everything you do with confidence and a gung-ho attitude. I enjoyed your “Let’s do it” mantra whether it was work, diving or jumping off the Mnuw.
Meghan: You demonstrated in Yap that Queens prepares witty, intelligent and extremely talented teachers. Although at times I was left puzzled (Where do we live? Where are we going?), I can only hope that as my son starts elementary school he is lucky enough to have teachers like you in the classroom.
Lindsey: I learned that a smile can be quite contagious and powerful.
Mollie: You (and Lindsey) demonstrated in Yap that Queens prepares extremely talented and confident nurses. Your unflinching willingness to help others (especially with all my cuts and bruises) regardless of the task or circumstance was truly inspiring.
Brooke: I learned that there is not a single hurdle in life that you cannot overcome.
Iris: I learned the importance of making personal connections with everyone that comes into your life (even if you only see/know them for a short time). Additionally, your expressions and personality was well documented in almost every picture we have from this trip!
Jamie: I learned that your sense of humor and heart make you larger than
Ashley: I learned that life happens. Your ability to deal with whatever life throws at you is inspiring. For most, a broken arm the day before leaving on a 3 week trip to Micronesia would be devastating. You never complained and you never held back. Congratulations on becoming a certified scuba diver and thank you for all your hard work. Your family should be (and I’m sure will be) extremely proud of you after hearing all your stories.
Jamie: I learned to never let your own (and often self-perceived) flaws interfere with any experience in life.
Eric: I learned that a good sense of humor truly is the secret of life. I saw glimpses of my (college) past through you and can’t thank you enough for helping me relive that exciting time of my life.
Lynn: A conversation with a friend or loved-one at the end of the day (with beer or wine) can be extremely refreshing and important to healthy friendships and relationships.
Reed: You have mastered the art of traveling. After traveling together on 4 JBIP trips I have the confidence to go anywhere on this planet. Additionally, what I’ve learned about leadership and facilitating a group during the Yap prep-course and trip is more than I could ever get from a textbook or class.
During our final dinner on Yap Reed mentioned that one of the best compliments he (or any of the faculty) can give students is to say that he (or us) would travel anywhere with them again. That is definitely true as I would travel with each one of these students and colleagues in a heart-beat. Thank you again for an amazing and life altering experience.