Preparing for Your Trip: Sage’s Story

Traveling to another country is not easy. Doing it as a teenager with a group of people you just met is even harder. You might experience culture shock, homesickness, or social anxiety. Even just thinking about it can be overwhelming.

So, what can you do to prepare yourself for your Humanitarian Experience trip?

When I found out I would be going to Jordan for my Humanitarian XP trip, I was excited but also terrified. The Middle East is nothing like the U.S., and I had no idea how to interact with the people or what was culturally appropriate. A few months before I was due to leave, I decided to look into the country a little bit more. Jordanians mostly speak Arabic, so I decided I was going to commit myself to learning some Arabic before I left. I downloaded DuoLingo, scoured Spotify for an Arabic podcast, and checked out an audiobook from my library. And then I got to work. 

If I’m being honest, I knew no more than 200 Arabic words when I left for Jordan. But as I arrived in the country, those words opened up so many doors for me to make connections with the locals that I otherwise would not have been able to.

For our project, we renovated a school for disabled, low income, and refugee children. The school principal, Asma*, wanted us to paint murals on the wall. The language barrier made it very difficult to communicate with her, so we had to put everything we wanted to say into Google Translate and, well, you know how accurate Google Translate can be. Eventually we just dropped the phones and actually tried to understand her. With my limited Arabic vocabulary, I was able to catch on to what she was saying. Asma was thrilled! We formed an immediate bond and working with her became a hundred times easier. She even helped me expand my Arabic vocabulary! 

I had at least a dozen Jordanians tell me how impressed they were with my Arabic. I was frequently told, “No one ever tries to learn our language. They just assume we all know English”. They were immensely grateful for my efforts to integrate myself into their culture and better understand them.

I brought my 200 flashcards on the trip and shared them with a fellow Builder, who memorized some of the words and started speaking to the children. The Arabic learning frenzy spread like wildfire from there, and soon most of my group knew enough basic phrases to get around. We were all able to make more meaningful connections with the people we served, which made the experience much more memorable for us, too.

If you’re wondering how you can prepare for your trip, I would strongly encourage you to look into learning the country’s language. Being able to communicate with the people you serve will make your trip more enjoyable for you and more meaningful for them. You will make friends and touch lives. Learning a language is not easy, but when you’re doing it to better serve people, it becomes much easier (and more fun) than an 8th grade Spanish class.

When you do something hard to better serve God’s children, God steps in to make that hard thing easier for you. The MTC (Missionary Training Center) is widely regarded as one of the best language learning centers in the world. In fact, many institutions want to know the secret to the MTC’s effectiveness, including the U.S. military. Although they try to replicate the MTC’s programs, they haven’t found the same results. I believe this is because the missionaries are learning the language so they can bring God’s children closer to Him, so God facilitates their learning. 

Similarly, you are going on a HXP trip to show love to God’s children through service. I have faith God will make it easier for you to learn what you need to better serve the people you encounter on your trip.

I understand that the idea of learning a brand new language in just a few months before your trip is overwhelming, maybe even terrifying. If you think the DuoLingo lessons will cause you too much stress, there are lots of other things you can do to prepare for your trip! I would recommend researching the country’s social customs and traditions, so you are ready to interact with the people you meet in respectful, conscientious ways. For example, on my trip we learned that in Jordan it is considered very rude to show the bottom of your foot, so you shouldn’t sit with your foot resting on your other knee because that might offend people. Just this little fact about Jordan made my group more culturally sensitive and possibly prevented some uncomfortable interactions.

Jordan group painting on the worksite

Whatever you do to prepare yourself, God will bless you for your efforts. You will find that as you come to understand the country’s culture, you will feel more comfortable and less anxious, which will help you be a more effective Builder. Homesickness will dissipate as you are better prepared to connect with the locals and jump into your project.

Yes, traveling internationally to do humanitarian work is scary, but with your diligent preparation to understand the culture and language of the people, your trip will be incredibly fulfilling. You might even look back on your Humanitarian XP trip as some of the best weeks of your life. You will grow as a person and improve the lives of others. Your selflessness and willingness to learn will change lives.

حظا سعيدا (Good luck!)

– Sage, Jordan 3

*Name changed to protect privacy