Alumna Spotlight – Ceely Heck (TTS 16- Fall 2010)
Ceely is currently serving in the Peace Corps in Cameroon. She took some time out of her busy schedule to reflect on her semester in Southern Africa with The Traveling School and how it continues to impact her today, over eight years later. She also shared some advice for current and prospective young women in the program.
Reflections from Cameroon, by Ceely Heck: “It is an unspoken agreement amongst most people that discomfort is a bad thing. It is tiring, it is draining, it is awkward, and it is just not something to wake up wanting in your life. But, what if that wasn’t the case. What if, instead of avoiding moments that are unfamiliar, unknown, or just uncomfortable, we sought them out? What if we leaned into the discomfort?
In 2010 I had the privilege to join TTS16 to southeastern Africa. I had spent years dreaming about this semester abroad; I had spent countless hours working and fundraising to make it happen. With the help of my family, friends, and community, I left in August of 2010 to make my dream a reality. But, I found I was unprepared for the discomforts of living abroad. Growing up in a family with only brothers, I didn’t know how to live with 16 new sisters. I found that things I was certain of, things that defined who I was, became a little more uncertain. I had never spent more than a couple of weeks away from home, and after the first month abroad, I found my heart aching for my family. The discomforts overwhelmed me and at times, I became lost in them.
But, it was with the help of my incredibly supportive TTS teachers and sisters that I learned the lesson in this. TTS is unique because not only is it a semester abroad, it is 3 months of living in a community where personal growth is not just encouraged, it is cherished. By experiencing the uncertainty of leaving everything I knew to be safe behind me, I began to learn more about who I was and what I believed. If you have a safe place to start from and come back to, almost any journey is possible and eventually, your idea of home and safe begins to adapt.
It was with this lesson that I was able to spend the past two years in the jungles of Cameroon, West Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Living and working in a community of 200 people, speaking a language I couldn’t speak until I arrived here, has had its fair share of discomfort. But, I have also built a home and found a place in my community despite this. It’s true that, at times, I still find myself lost in the discomfort of having to haul water every morning and evening, having no electricity, being constantly bitten by some insect, or being able to eat only the food that I or my neighbors can grow. But, I have also found the ability to lean into the discomfort. I have worked with my community to start a mobile health clinic, build latrines, complete surgery campaigns, and help to address the effects of the HIV in our community. I have found family and friends here that help support me through each difficulty I face. It started with TTS but I am confident now that if my dreams lead me to somewhere where I am not comfortable, I can still follow. If there was one piece of advice I had for the future generations of TTS ladies it would be just this: “lean into the discomfort, because you are stronger and braver than anyone, even you yourself, could imagine.”