By Meron Begashaw
Coming in on the latter half of my Ethiopian Diaspora Fellowship journey, I have had my fair share of unique experiences that have contributed to my own personal growth. I dreamt of these before coming to Ethiopia—that a member of the Diaspora like myself would come across an array of people, engage in varied interactions, and be put in circumstances that would all contribute to my emotional and social development. While the Fellowship trains us on leadership, development and service, in just a few months I can already walk away with quantifiable skills, growth, and self-awareness I wasn’t expecting.
Personal growth can happen in organic moments and is not necessarily something one can plan for or anticipate. I am thankful that living in Ethiopia has allowed for these “in the moment” experiences that effectively help develop life skills and my self-awareness no matter how, awkward or unexpected, the moments have been.
I knew separation from my American-based family, friends, greater community and familiar way of life would indeed reveal to me quite a few things about myself.
I will refrain from some of the more personal details of certain circumstances that led to these developments – and also fully check the multiple privileges I carry as an educated, English and Amharic-speaking Ethiopian American – to instead just say that being in Ethiopia as a Diaspora has me “adult-ing” in ways I have never had to before. I have lived on my own before, an experience that in it of itself allows for greater identity-building and personal growth, but doing so in Addis Ababa? Where Amharic is not my first language (albeit one that I am relatively comfortable in…or so I often think)? And where I often have had the luxury to defer tasks and asks to family members more privy to the cultural norms here? Now, I am handling all (okay, most), on my own.
At the very least, it has at times been challenging, but at its most, it has been awkward, confrontational, and humbling.
Small things like negotiating prices for daily needs like transportation can create an anxiety that you have to push through. I started practicing a pseudo-script and focused on my intentions which helped decrease my anxiety around these important, inevitable interactions. It’s getting easier the more I know how much things should actually cost – one of the benefits of staying longer than 2 weeks. And sometimes, it’s other moments – appointment cancellations without communication, being spoken over, a last minute change in a business policy – but all of these things have challenged me to separate my needs from my wants and pick and choose the appropriate battles. I’ve learned from almost every moment and these moments have contributed to my overall personal growth. I am now more patient, more solution-oriented, and continue to focus on the positive.
These experiences—many everyday, and others quite unexpected in nature—have improved my journey in self-development. While learning and contributing at St. Paul’s Hospital Millennium Medical College, having fun with friends and family, and finding solidarity and warmth in spaces like Setaweet, I have found these moments to also contribute to the enhancement of my being.
Growth can come from new situations, often, it comes from everyday experience – but it almost always comes through struggles. My day-to-day life away from everything I’m familiar with has created an opportunity to struggle … and to grow.