Written by Shaun Swartz
Perhaps one of the greatest small joys during a Journey with GoBeyond is the act of taking time to reflect on each day’s events.
As is tradition, we gather together in a circle, join hands, and discuss a question created by that day’s Skipper. Some of the questions are funny, some are serious – some are even nonsensical at surface level (Read: What’s your favorite type of water?), but all are voiced and often lead to a surprising array of answers.
There’s something incredibly cathartic about setting aside time each day to reflect on our actions and to consider how fortunate we are to simply exist in this time and in this space. “The Squeeze”, as this time is known to our students, is an acknowledgment that each moment together is fleeting, unrepeatable, and immensely valuable to our community service trips abroad. Discussing the best or worst parts of our days, we reveal a small piece to the larger puzzle of who we are. We allow others to come to know us through vulnerability. Some days, the moments are so incredible that discussing them aloud seems to be the only way to confirm that they were real. Some days, the challenges are so immense that the only way to confront them is to share the feeling with others. It’s a matter of give-and-take. You allow others to know you, but you also allow other people’s stories to become woven into the fabric of your life.
One of the most thought-provoking questions I’ve heard, however, was posed by long-standing staff member Torin Tofferi during the staff training portion of our British Virgin Islands program: “What is the meaning of ‘home’ to you?” As the question wove its way through the room and through our staff members’ lives, I recall being completely blown away by the answers, as our operational staff comes to us each year from a variety of backgrounds and nationalities; school teachers, dive instructors, sailing professionals, adventure guides, marine biologists – the list is endless.
Yet among these answers arose a theme that seemed to strike a chord in the group: “Home” can be anywhere. Home doesn’t have to be a physical location because Home is a feeling of comfort within yourself and those around you; it’s a feeling of contentment and familiarity, both of which can be rarities while traveling. Home is the feeling we seek to create for our students the moment they arrive to their community service trips abroad because, at the end of the day when the sails have been dropped and the work is all done and the sun has set, the people sitting on either side of us become like family. Shared moments of joy and of struggle, of adventure, and of homesickness – these moments are what connect us to each other and to our surroundings. Home is where the backpack drops.
Shaun’s passion for adventure and exploration was sparked at a young age through frequent camping trips in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains and surfing trips in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Through a variety of jobs in the realms of education, marine science, and adventure guiding, Shaun has sought to broaden not only his own horizons but also the horizons of his students through immersive and experiential education. Currently, Shaun aims to inspire environmental awareness, conservation, and stewardship in the marine ecosystem by combining his interests in photography, journalism, and media.