Many Outtatowners that enter the program don’t fully know what they are getting themselves into. Although some people in my group had gathered more information than others, nobody can truly prepare you for a life changing experience. This is what Outtatown was for me, a life changing experience. I could say many things about how great my Outtatown experience was, like the community, the adventures, and of course the food, but I’ll stick with the most influential part of my experience and how it has shaped how I see the world today.

As I thought about doing the Outtatown program, I imagined that going to South Africa would be the highlight of my trip. Travelling around Canada for the first semester did not even cross my mind. When people would ask me about what I would be doing on this program I would essentially respond, “Well, I’m doing something in Canada for three months BUT I’m going to South Africa and meeting a whole bunch of awesome people and going bungee jumping”. What ended up taking me by surprise was that in fact, as I look back on that year, it is the portion of when we travelled across Canada that was very influential. Growing up in a suburban small town, I thought of Canada as the best place in the world. As we explored this beautiful country, I was suddenly hit with the knowledge that reality can be complicated.

As we spent time with the Anishinaabe First Nation people, we learned about residential schools and colonialism in Canada and the impact it has on First Nation communities to this day. As we travelled across the country, we explored the inner cities and were given the opportunity to step outside of our comfort zones and live in the way Jesus calls us to live. We ate and built relationships with people who live on the streets and we prayed, laughed, and cried with many people. This opened my eyes to a whole new reality of Canada and that we are not a perfect country. I then realized I do not have to travel across the globe to help someone—there are huge issues happening in my backyard and I feel like throughout this trip, God made it clear to me that He wants me to serve here, just as I would if I was in a developing country.

In fact, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from Outtatown is that although we often look at developing countries and feel saddened by poverty, I believe that we also have poverty in Canada. When I think back to the amazing people we met in South Africa, I am struck that although having so little, many are filled with joy and thankfulness. When it comes to love, acceptance, and community I have never seen so much wealth as I did, in the slums of South Africa.

I learned that we cannot find joy and happiness through material objects, but rather through relationships and knowing that God will provide. This is one of the most important lessons I learned while on the Outtatown program and it is something I will carry with me throughout my life.

Emilie Roussis is one of CMU’s Student Ambassadors

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