Global Service Scholar: Kimberly Haagenson
Country: Peru

Before departing for Peru, I spent several weeks fighting an anxiety that threatened to ruin my overall experience. I had a long list of fears as I found myself preparing to travel to an unexplored country, with unfamiliar people, eating unusual food and living with an unknown family – for a full month’s time. I was overwhelmed with worry, uncertainty and a stomach full of butterflies.

However, when the time came to step off the plane in Lima, I was faced with a choice. I realized that I could either give into my anxiety and let it control the scope of my perspective, or I could fight against fear and strive to enjoy the best of each moment. This was a real challenge for me, because anxiety has a funny habit of casting its negative shadows over my outlook – even when I’m faced with the most ideal circumstances, such as a school-sponsored field study trip to Peru.

So, I used this past month as a trial period for the practice of mindfulness, a principle that was introduced in the SE 100 course that preceded the field study excursion. Every worry and every moment of anxiety was an opportunity for me to choose calm over chaos, and peace over peril. I wanted to reverse my unhealthy tendency to allow negativity to hinder my happiness. And I found that my mom was mostly right when she told me happiness is a choice. Of course, there are some moments when simply “choosing happiness” is not strong enough to pull a person out of something as deep as depression. Nevertheless, I find actively choosing happiness to be a useful practice and preventative measure against any of my pesky inhibitions.

During my time in Peru, I learned the value of maintaining vigilance over my mindset and staying positive about my situation. I accomplished this through a lot of prayer. I used my faith as a tool to tunnel my way out of any worry that threatened to keep me buried under the surface. As a result, I gained a greater trust in my God. And – to my surprise – I grew in my own self-confidence as well. I finally realized that, with God’s help, it is actually possible for me to break free of the fear that sometimes paralyzes me. I found myself truly enjoying the adventure, even with all of its uncertainty and difficulty. More importantly, I realized a newfound love of life that has energized me to continue my pursuit of happiness in all of my future adventures.