This I Believe: An Open Heart

Every year at ESK, eighth grade students share their “This I Believe” essays with their fellow classmates during Chapel. Students are tasked with sharing a life lesson they have learned with the student body. According to the “This I Believe” organization website, students are encouraged to “start by telling a compelling story about how you came to hold an important personal belief—something that guides your daily living.” The talks are based on the “This I Believe” radio show hosted by Edward R. Murrow more than 50 years ago. Students all over the country – and the world – participate in the “This I Believe” project each year. ESK will feature several of these essays, including today’s from eighth grader Leah Peterson.


Beyonce once said “Take all the rules away. How can we live if we don’t change?” Change is a theme that’s pretty popular right now. With the current position of our nation, change is a topic on everyone’s minds, for better or for worse. And with all these new laws and perceptions of people that are different surfacing right now, the worst thing we can do is stay silent. With that being said, I’m going to talk about an experience that I think applies to this understanding well, an experience that taught me about how much we all have in common.

In the summer of fifth grade, 2014, I was given a chance to leave the US for an entire month and go to Brazil with a program called CISV, which stands for Childrens’ International Summer Village. The catch was that I wasn’t traveling with my parents; I was going with three other kids from around this area. I went with Max Novinger, Henry Schaefer, and I honestly can’t remember the other one, sorry! We would be staying at the camp in Sao Jose with 50 different kids from 12 other countries. The delegations were made up of four kids, two girls and two boys, and everyone had to be 11 years old. I’m not sure why, but they wouldn’t take anyone older or younger than that. Each delegation had a leader, so we weren’t totally unsupervised, but they slept in a completely separate building, and the boys and girls stayed in their own cabins with no adults. Needless to say, that was a great setup.

My delegation and I got to a rural area in Brazil, Sao Jose dos Campos, on about July 1st. It was a bit of a rush, seeing all those kids there, the majority of whom spoke broken or no English. Mostly it was terrifying. We weren’t there for any formal project; our sole purpose was to socialize. It was to establish global friendships and learn about each other, so if you didn’t do rise to meet the challenge,  it wasn’t going to be a fun month. It was a little bit nerve wracking, as we had never met these kids before, and for some, we had no way to communicate with them. The first two days were the worst:  I didn’t know anyone’s name, I couldn’t speak any other language well, and had no clue what the kids were saying to each other. It was like the first day of middle school, but we were way out on a countryside, not learning academic subjects, and not everyone’s first language was English.

At first I thought the whole ‘establishing global friendship’ thing was dumb, and I had my mind on more important things like memorizing the land we were on, learning people’s names, and speaking in very broken Spanish. I thought this was just an excuse for a bunch of kids to have fun. But, while I was there, I did make friends, and I made memories. I even learned a little bit. Did you know that Canadians are really not that nice when they want to shower first? The change argument fits in well here, because those kids were different from any kids I had ever known, and the settings were different. I hope kids in the future will get to have the same experience as I did, but with so many doors closing to our country I’m really not sure.

When I reflect on my experience that summer, the thing that struck me the most was how different we were, but at the same time, how incredibly similar we were too. We had the same stupid romances that lasted for about 30 minutes, and we had feuds and fights. I got to be best friends with Wendi from Indonesia, and I think I’m most proud of the fact that I can say ‘blender’ in Portuguese. I have a notebook that a girl from the Netherlands gave me still, and, to tease me, a guy from Ecuador made me a marriage certificate. I even have a twine necklace that a girl from Mexico made me. The point is, the memories I made there are some of the most precious to me, and if I listed all of them, we would be here for a while. I want very much to see all of them again, and maybe someday I will.

If you learn nothing else from this ramble, know that you don’t have to be the same to be accepted. Ignore anyone who tells you that change isn’t welcome or normal. If you go into new experiences with an open heart, you might find someone who shares a little piece of your soul on the other side of the world.
This I Believe.