One of the things that I learned when I first studied abroad is the need to look at the grey areas of life. Oil production is abundant in that country, and my 20-year-old self had many preconceived ideas about everyone involved with oil companies. Are there many business and environmental policies that I don’t agree with? Of course. Are there people who are just trying to take care of their family, and do their best? Very much so. My time there taught me that the corporation and the people within the corporation are two very separate entities, and should not be judged with the same criteria.
With it being such an oil rich nation, unfortunately prostitution is one the leading occupations for women there. Those women were some of the kindest and friendliest people I have ever I met. It’s the men who worked within the oil companies (ranging from drillers to executives) who would tell you about their wife and kids as they were picking up a prostitute and who would them horribly. The men who get excessively drunk, knowing that they were going to drive us home.
I’m not a fan of beating myself up over the past. My 20-year-old self was very angry at those situations, but my 20-year-old self also felt very powerless to change anything. I bit my lip and got in the cars. I wish the situation was different. I wish that at 20 I felt the confidence to speak out, even though it might have changed anything. If I berated oil workers about their cheating and the diseases they were bringing home to their wives, what would have that accomplished?
It’s taken awhile, but I finally forgave my past self for not yelling at every disgusting man who I encountered abroad. I was not outspoken six years ago. I was a shy, anxiety ridden college student who was finally coming to terms with her sexuality. I was in no place to do and say the things I wanted to. That I probably should have.
I didn’t stand up for those women, the students in my group, or myself.
Now, through my study abroad experiences and now my non-profit, I can see what may seem like a drop in the bucket make all of the difference in the world. Or it may not. But I need to try, because I have no idea what ripple effect my actions may cause one, five, or ten years down the road.My silence taught me not to yell at walls, and to not tolerate ugly behavior; to speak out when I have the opportunity to. As a result of my past lack of strength and confidence, I now have learned to use my voice as a force for good whenever possible.
I still look for the grey areas of situations, but with the understanding that there are some things that I refuse to compromise on.
Through my lack of strength and confidence, I have learned to use my voice as a force for good whenever possible.