It’s summer 2009. I just graduated from high school and am ready for the trip of a lifetime. I walk onto the plane, find my seat, and fumble my seatbelt on. The engine starts. I feel every little movement as the plane speeds up and takes off from the Halifax Stanfield International Airport. In a matter of seconds, I’m thousands of feet above the ever-shrinking city. I can’t believe it! This literally feels like a dream. My first time on a plane! With tonnes of excitement and some butterflies in my belly, I watch the ground completely disappear. Finally, after months of preparation and anticipation… I’m going to Kenya.

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A rural home outside of Nairobi.

I Didn’t Travel Growing Up

I’ve always been adventurous. Growing up, my family didn’t travel too far from our home in Victoria Vale, Nova Scotia, but I took every opportunity I could to visit new places. I went on youth group events and organized wilderness trips in New Brunswick. I travelled to different parts of NS on school field trips. At sixteen, I bought my first car—a 1998 Plymouth Breeze (aka: Breezy)—and found freedom! I was pretty good at choosing my next adventure, but I had never left the Maritimes.

And at 18-years-old, I found myself flying over the Atlantic Ocean enroute to London. Once we landed, a few of us left the airport for eight hours of fun in the city. It was a mad rush to see Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and Westminster Abbey. We went inside the church to explore. At this point in my life, I had hardly spent time in Halifax, so you can imagine my blown mind in this world-renowned metropolis of London. As our departure time drew closer, we made our last stop at a nearby restaurant where I ordered an overpriced hamburger. Why did I order a hamburger in London? I guess my tastebuds weren’t very adventurous… yet.

My First International Trip to Kenya

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The Eastleigh Community Centre. There was always so much activity here.

You might be wondering: Why did I go to Kenya anyway? I was travelling with a group from the church where I attended youth group. When I heard about the upcoming trip, I immediately wanted to go. The church gave me many opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise, and I’m very grateful for this one. And unlike some other church-run trips, there wasn’t a strong undercurrent of what I’d call white-savourism or ultra-arrogant colonialism cloaked in evangelicalism. The purpose of our visit was to witness what Canadian Baptist Ministries and local partners were up to in Kenya. Looking back, I’m impressed by our leader’s focus on cultural sensitivity and relationship-building.

Becoming a Guest in a Different Country

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Playing musical chairs with the kids in the Eastleigh Community Centre.

I never set out to change the world. Kenya didn’t need me. I was a guest—learning, connecting, and experiencing a different place with new people. I’m sure I barely scratched the surface of Kenya’s complex cultural, social, political, religious, and economic realities in our two-week visit. In the state of culture shock, it can be hard to resist the urge to want to “fix” things—especially injustice and cycles of poverty. But one thing’s for sure: I didn’t change anything in Kenya. This trip changed me.

I remember spending most of my time with our group at the Eastleigh Community Centre. A predominately Somali neighbourhood, Eastleigh is where the church supported self-help groups for refugee women, vocational skills training, and education for children. I helped renovate a couple classrooms, led activities with the kids, and interacted with community members in English classes. We had a few opportunities to visit some tourist attractions and experience African wildlife, too. To this day, the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant orphanage is one of my favourite places. Check out Disney’s Born to Be Wild to learn about these orphaned elephants and those who rescue them. Seriously, the Keepers are my heroes.

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Zebras outside of Nairobi. Are they black with white stripes or white with black stripes?
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Babies at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Elephants are the only animals in the world that cannot jump. They have other gifts.

Reflecting on My First International Trip

It’s easy to look back and see the challenges and potential harm that short-term international volunteer trips can cause. And yet I’m deeply grateful that this experience cemented my passion for global connection and cooperation. After this trip, I re-focused my sociology degree around global issues and returned to Kenya in 2011 for a cross-cultural internship. I went on to complete my master’s of international development in 2015 and have been working in the international development sector ever since. Kenya was the catalyst.

Travel is a gift. I learned so much about myself and about the world in Kenya, and in the multiple countries I’ve visited since. The global connections and relationships I’ve formed influence my outlook on life.

Sometimes the media paints an inaccurate picture of what the world’s really like. I mean, there’s hardship and sometimes danger—for sure. But there’s way more beauty, creativity, humanity, and kindness—everywhere. The intrinsic value of all human beings has never been more apparent. There’s deep value in other cultures and religions.

Unlike my bland London hamburger, travel adds bold flavours of complexity and beauty to my life. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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These boys were attending school at the Eastleigh Community Centre. I wonder where they are now.

The world is a different place right now, with masks and hand sanitizer on planes. But it’s more important than ever to find safe and meaningful ways to globally connect.

Have you had a travel experience that’s impacted your life? Or maybe you’re new to the world of travel? I’d love to hear from you!

From Canada to Kenya: The Trip That Started It All via @outandacross
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