Everyone in my company’s delegation had been assigned a host family for our conference in Ireland. I, however, was the only one outside the city. I had just finished my second day representing the country of Chad before the United Nations. It may have only been a model UN, but getting steamrolled by Russian veto power felt real nonetheless. I made my way to the Dublin Area Rail Transport (DART) and started the roughly two-hour train ride outside the city, past the suburbs, through a rural town or two, and then finally to the quaint town I called home. Only problem was, I got off at the wrong stop.
The rain drizzled in that Irish way; you could only tell it was raining from the fact you were wet. You couldn’t feel it; you couldn’t hear the pitter patter. I just felt the cold as it settled on my skin through a pinstripe suit and now apparent lack of an overcoat. I was in the middle of Ireland with nothing but a few scant streets and a pub amidst fog and rolling emerald hills. No idea where I was and no clue where to go. I have never been happier.
As I’ve journeyed, one thing most people have in common is an affinity for the known, the comfortable. Even in my own home as we travel and explore, my wife breathes out the welcoming return of home. She often expresses how much she prefers to sleep in her own bed. I, on the other hand, sleep better in the unfamiliar. Perhaps channeling my inner Elsa, I find peace and satisfaction venturing into the unknown.
As I stood there in a town I don’t think I even learned the name of, I meandered to a pub. It turned out to be the oldest, continually operating pub in the world, celebrating its then 125th year of serving Ireland’s best fish and chips. While the latter description may be my own, it was nonetheless the first moment I truly appreciated life.
As I’ve aged, I’ve discovered what has ultimately led me to Thunderbird: an appreciation for differences. Up until my early twenties, I assumed this was the case for all. It never occurred to me that thinking there was more to life or a different way to do things was uncommon, perhaps even rare. Unfortunately, that learning experience was quite painful; I came to find myself surrounded by expanses of people who looked and talked like me, yet I felt more alone than I did that gloomy day in Ireland. It’s almost ironic that someone who stands out so painfully like I do (look at any photograph, and Jake Taylor is easy to find) could struggle with being so out of place, but I did. I was criticized by my peers for daring to think, for venturing to believe in something more.
Many tour and travel, many make friends from around the world, and many study the corners of our planet, but none of these complete a global mindset alone. Even the etymology of the words suggests something more – “the mental faculty, the thinking process.” The very reason our neurons connect is different. To be a Thunderbird means to be different, to stand alone in a crowd, because rather than connect with those beside you, we are inextricably linked to others across the globe. Have you ever watched a neuron bond? It waves an arm tirelessly until it makes the right connection. It may take hours, it may take days, it may take years, but when it finds its match, it grabs on firm and forms a bond that will last the rest of its life, revisiting that connection every time it needs. So too will we. For some of us it has taken only days, for others years, but here we all find those bonds that will build bridges around the world and last throughout eternity.
Standing on the brink of Larcomar in Miraflores, Peru, I recall the same melodramatic mists I did in Ireland, met with ocean waves beating against the coastal walls. Carved out of the cliffside culminating in an expansive plateau, Larcomar represented everything I loved: a gateway to a different world. When I now stand in Thunderbird’s Global Forum and watch our giant globe spin above me, I throw mental darts, seeing where they’ll land and pretending where I’ll go. I don’t know where I’ll end up or what comes next, but I know from these experiences and myriad more what the world holds for me. That’s the global mindset. Every time I meet a Thunderbird, my heart leaps because through each of you I come one step closer to that feeling I once had. Fulfilled at last, lost in translation.