Wednesday, December 16, 2015

When it rains, it pours

Sometimes life doesn't throw you lemons, it chucks them at you and knocks you down. This happened to me recently. My car died, the handles of my bike fell off, my computer broke, I got sick. All in the middle of finals week of my hardest semester. I feel like I'm usually pretty good at brushing these things off, but not this time. Every time something new hit, it was harder to get back up. I called my Mom, like I do during any life crisis, and just let it all go. For the first time in my life I allowed myself to really spiral down into a negative vacuum until I came to what I perceived as the very real conclusion that grad school was a mistake and I was going to end up jobless in my parents' attic. After listening to my drastic escalation, my Mom said, "Jeff, when it rains it pours." After she said this I didn't get how that was supposed to help. But the more I thought about it, I realized that we have so many resources to protect ourselves from pouring rain, just like I'm never alone when I feel like life is pushing me down.

This week showed me that the people around me will always help me back up. Being able to freak out to my Mom or call one of my sisters to get my mind off school, getting a much needed afternoon break from studying at Mount Vernon, catching up with a friend over dinner, studying for finals with a really good group, receiving incredible Christmas gifts from friends. All of these things helped me to get back up. And when it comes down to it, my problems are so minuscule compared to others, so I should stop worrying about my problems and focus on how I can help others. 

So ya, when it rains it pours. But luckily we don't have to go through it alone.

Me and my buddy Ciprian after a Romanian summer storm

Friday, August 21, 2015

The white man who can't solve problems

I know it’s cliché to write a blog post about how my time in Africa has changed me. But this last month in Ghana has taught me things I wasn't expecting. Here are a couple of them.

1. Learning to fit into a culture does not mean assimilating into it

Up until now, in every place I’ve lived outside the US I’ve been able to somewhat hide my foreign-ness by learning the language, learning to dress like the locals, and/or just quietly slipping into the every day life of the community. I’ve always felt like the biggest compliment is someone coming up to me and asking me for directions in the local language. It made me feel accomplished, like I somehow successfully learned to appreciate their culture.

All of that changed the moment I stepped foot in Ghana. I was immediately put in the foreigner line for my passport check. Several taxi drivers navigated through a crowd of black people just to get us into their car. Driving down the street consists of everyone staring at me or even yelling out “obruni” (white man). Walking down the crowded street is always accompanied by what seems like a million eyes fixed on me. In stores people don’t even try to speak Twi to me, they automatically switch to English. While waiting for my order at a restaurant a Mom and her daughter walk in behind me, the little girl looks at me and says something to her Mom where the only word I understand is “obruni.” The Mom looked at her and in English has to tell her about 4 times, “Yes, dear, I see the obruni too.”

It took me a long time to not be bothered by this. I still struggle with it sometimes. I’ve been constantly trying to find ways that I can slip into my undercover self and be mistaken for a local. But then I realized that I will never be able to do that. Even if I were to live here for 20 years, perfectly learn the language, the mannerisms, the right grunts for every situation, I still would never be mistaken for a Ghanaian. But that’s ok. I’m learning to fit into this culture without looking like a local. I’m learning more about the people, their desires, their concerns, their food, their history. And I’m bringing my own unique qualities to share. And in the end, isn’t that what traveling is all about?

Austin playing Spar, the card game of Ghanaians. 

I wanted to see the jungle. We definitely found it. 

2. International Development is about creating opportunities, not solving problems

Almost all of my experience with international development up until now has been trying to find solutions to pressing issues. How to help boost the Romanian economy, how to educate the youth, how to save the rainforest, etc. Although I have had good intentions, I’ve been focusing on all the wrong things. When I first came to Ghana all I saw were the problems. The never-ending litter, clogged gutters, unsafe housing. I was overwhelmed, how am I ever supposed to solve this? The city has quickly expanded to accommodate rapid urbanization, which has resulted in so many issues. Every corner I turn I see a new problem that needs to be fixed. It’s exhausting.

But as I’ve spent more time here, I’ve stopped seeing the problems and started seeing the people. The kids aren’t crying about not having a yard to play in, they are playing hide and seek behind rocks and tires. The women aren’t complaining about cooking over a trash filled gutter, they are laughing with their friends while balancing huge pots and pans on their heads. The men aren’t dragging their feet about having to create their own jobs, they are dancing in the streets while working. Once I saw that the people are happy despite all these “problems”, I realized that development isn’t about creating solutions. It’s about giving people opportunities to be even happier than they already are. It’s doing the same thing that I want to do with my community in the States, helping them to achieve their dreams. As much as I have come to appreciate the role that nonprofits and government organizations play in development, they are not enough. We need businesses that fix inefficiencies in the markets and provide opportunities for those in poverty. We don’t need them the people to be charity cases, we need to start seeing them as they really are, people who can change the world.

Some guys we met while hiking. One loves learning about other cultures, the other just smiled a whole lot. 
Colby, who is an entrepreneur, buying and selling cool things he finds in the markets. 
My time in Ghana has taught me so much more than I expected coming into it. I think I’ve learned more in the past 3 weeks than I have in the past 6 months. And when it comes down to it, all of the things I’ve learned have come from the people. For every Ghanaian that has yelled out “obruni” while I’m walking down the street, there is one who has stopped to welcome me into their country. I’ve learned to smile, to laugh, to dance, and to welcome every stranger that walks by.

Although I’m excited for the hamburgers, cheddar cheese, air conditioning, and dryers that await me back in the States, I'm probably even more excited for a life filled with more adventures and lessons learned, many of which I hope to be in Ghana. 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Doing the Unexpected

A lot of unexpected things can happen in a year. Almost one year ago today I graduated from BYU.
Stole this from Mom's Facebook.
No, that is not me at prom.
That day I was positive I was going to move to Washington DC to go to grad school at George Washington University. I also figured that this summer I'd be staying in DC for an internship and then pick back up at GW for my second year. Well, none of that happened. Nothing even remotely close to that happened. 

A year ago today I didn't know that I'd be going to SAIS and living in Bologna, Italy. I didn't know that I'd have the incredible opportunity to travel around Europe and gain a new perspective on life. I had no clue that I would be spending part of this summer interning at a consulting firm in București and quite possibly the other part in Ghana. I had no idea I'd be really bad at learning Russian. I didn't know that I'd be giving a talk at church tomorrow in a language I knew nothing about 8 months ago/still don't know much about (thank goodness for Google Translate). I didn't know my little brother would be on a mission.  I also didn't know that this would be the year where I discover a lot of my weaknesses. 

What I'm trying to say is that this year has been filled with so many things that I never expected to happen, and I think that's a really beautiful thing. A lot of those things have been really really good. But a lot of them have been really hard too. As I've been dealing with so many new things this year I've come to realize that anything really is possible. 

I hear stories about these amazing people who are my age doing incredible things. Starting businesses, carrying out successful development projects, making awesome Harry Potter parodies to Uptown Funk. What's stopping me from doing that? Why do I think that I have to wait until I'm rich to go out and do something meaningful with my life? I don't. This year I've learned that if I put my mind to something, I can go out and do things I never thought possible.

Monday, October 20, 2014


There've only been a couple of times in my life that I've been completely speechless. The first time was right after I turned 20. I'd been on a mission in Romania for about 6 months. I got out of the shower and my mission companion asked me to sit down, and then told me that my former companion had just died. The second time was about 8 months later. There was an incredible family at church who was struggling financially, and had just got kicked out of the shack they were living in. The Branch President came up to me and asked what we should do to get them out of poverty.

These two experiences had a profound impact on my life because they forced me to think. They made me question my beliefs, why the God I loved and was serving would allow these things to happen. They challenged me to search for answers that I didn't know how to find. They taught me that sometimes life doesn't give us answers, but we have to go out and find them. 

Coming to Italy for grad school has been an amazing experience so far. But it's also given me another question that I don't have an answer to: "What do you want to do after SAIS?" Because just standing there speechless would expose me for the unqualified grad student that I am, I usually manage to spit out something that in my head sounds like "I want to be a business development consultant focusing on Eastern Europe" but really sounds like "uh...I want to do stuff to help solve...problems."

I came here knowing exactly what I want to do. I want to help the Romanians that I love, and countless others like them, to have a better life. Well, it turns out that there's no job with that description.

While trying to find the answer to this seemingly impossible question I've figured out some other things along the way:

  1. There are so many careers out there that I don't know about...yet.
  2. I really really love pumpkin and apple cinnamon gelato. 
  3. People make life worth living. 
  4. It's ok to be sad, confused, and mad sometimes. You don't have to pretend like everything's ok all the time. 
  5. Singing in the car to Queen and Beyonce with 8 other people while driving through Tuscany will make you instantly happy. 
  6. Sometimes the best part of my day is having one of those "ahah" moments in class. And other times it's riding my bike through fall leaves while listening singing to music. 
  7. I need nature in my life. 
  8. My family and friends will always be there to catch me when I fall. 
Panzano, Italy
Lake Bled, Slovenia
San Marino

I still don't know how to respond when I'm put in any of these three situations. But I've learned some awesome things along the way. Probably most importantly, I've learned that although I don't understand why God allows bad and confusing things to happen, I know that He's never left me alone while going through them. Life is filled with things we don't know. Some of them we'll find the answers to, and some of them we won't. And that's okay, because we'll find answers to other things along the way.  

Monday, June 23, 2014

Family Resemblance

This is my little brother Dallin. 

Hold off ladies...he's prepping for a mission
We've never really been told that we look a lot alike. Maybe it's because we really don't look alike, or maybe it's because he has the hair of a California surfer god. We may never know.

However, this weekend I was asked to speak on a "Dating Panel" for a conference for high schoolers at my church. Side Note: Why they asked me I will never know. (1) I graduated from BYU single (2) I went on like 2 dates in high school and (3) I'm like, pretty against dating in high school.

Now, I don't know what it is, but when I'm around big groups of teenagers I get real awkward. The actual dating panel went pretty well-I'm ok talking to a group of them when they're forced to listen to me.  But let them loose when the panel has ended and I start to think everyone has it out for me. I tried to book it out of there as fast as I could. Right when I was about to escape I realized a group of guys were blocking the door. For all I knew this group of guys (who in reality are really nice and awesome) was planning on hanging me from the flag pole by my underwear. So I decided to act totally natural and pretend like I didn't see them. Note to self, that doesn't work too well when they're literally right in front of you.

I finally looked up and they started talking to me. Turns out they were all friends with Dallin, and for the first time I can remember, I was told that me and him look alike. But what really got me was when they told me that I had the same mannerisms as him, that my personality reminded them of Dallin. I think the biggest compliment I've ever received is being told that I remind someone of my younger brother.

Although he's 7 years younger than me, I have so much to learn from him. He's kind, he's gentle, he's compassionate, and he's hilarious. He constantly reminds me that who I really want to be is someone who cares about others, and isn't afraid to have a good time while doing it.'s those pictures I promised to send you

Monday, May 19, 2014

Moving On...But Not Giving Up

Change has been the only constant in my life the past 3 1/2 weeks. I thought living in 18 apartments over the past 5 years would have taught me to deal with change, but I'm learning that it can still be tough.  

The past couple of weeks I've:

  • Left my best friends of 6 years that had turned into my family
  • Moved across the country
  • Graduated college
  • Went from thinking I was going to graduate school in DC at George Washington to deciding to attend Johns Hopkins SAIS and finding out I'll spend my first year of studies in Bologna, Italy
  • Gotten an office job for the first time in my life
  • Spent much needed time with my family for the first time in awhile

Some of these things haven't been hard to accept (i.e. being with family and dealing with living in ITALY for a year), but others have been really rough (i.e leaving my friends in Provo). 


Like I said, I didn't really expect to struggle too much with all this change. I knew I'd miss a lot of things, but shouldn't I be used to it by now? Heck, I even wrote a blog post about how moving is good. But when I got back to NC I realized how much my friends have changed me. 

When I left high school people told me that I'd only stay in contact with at most 2 or 3 of my friends. I didn't want to believe it...but I'd say that it's mostly been true. People have said the same thing to me about college - but this time, I refuse to believe it. I know I won't be able to keep in touch with every single person I met at BYU, but you better believe that I'm going to try as hard as I can to keep in touch with the incredible people who have become part of me. I know this won't mean talking to them every day, or every week, or maybe even every month. But I will keep in touch with them because they mean the world to me. 

Shoo I miss these guys 

I think what I'm trying to get at here is that I am really excited to move on with my life. I'm excited to move to Europe and pursue further studies that will enable me to fulfill my career goals. I'm excited to see where life takes me and for the things I'll do. I'm excited to see that moving on doesn't mean giving up what I have, but adding to it. 

I'm not leaving those I love behind, I'm taking the things I've learned and the relationships I have with me, and I'm going to add on to them with more incredible people that I'm bound to meet. Life isn't about finding great things to let others go, it's about making as many great things as possible part of you. 

Here's to the unknown, the unpredictable, and the future that is sure to be bright.  

Saturday, April 12, 2014

When Charity Hurts

I want to talk about something that's been on my mind a lot lately--humanitarian aid. More specifically, about when people donate money or time out of the goodness of their hearts, but really do more harm than good

  1. I'm not an International Development/Nonprofit/Humanitarian Aid expert, and by no means am I claiming to be one. 
  2. It makes me so happy to know that there are so many people in the world who desire to do good. I'm just saying that if we all took a little more time to educate ourselves on the subject we could help out in much more efficient ways. 

What I'm Saying Is...
All I want to say is that simplifying such a large problem is probably the worst thing we could do. I've talked to a lot of people that say if we were to just do "_________" we could alleviate poverty. Most of the time this comes from people who have never really done any research or had any education on the subject. Sure, they may have had a really incredible experience in South America where they saw a starving child and gave him or her money, which is great. But that hardly qualifies someone to become an instant expert on what exactly needs to be done to solve one of the world's most pressing issues. Too sassy?

So, what I'm suggesting is that we take the time to research what's being done right now to help the poor and critically analyze it. Dig deeper than just reading a touching story...find the problems of an organization. How is it hurting the culture? The local economy? Find out how it's helping. Who are they helping? What's their footprint? 

Here's a cool video that kind of describes this. The first
 2 minutes and 30 seconds is really what I was getting at, 
not the end part about saving the rain forest (which is 
also a noble thing to do).

Basically, really helping the world isn't as easy as clicking "Donate Now" and giving out our credit card number. We also don't need to drop everything and go try to solve the problem with no real knowledge of the problem. If you really want to make an impact take the time to research what you're doing, be critical, and do the best you can to make sure that what you're doing will help and not hurt. 

There is so much potential within each of us to change the world. Ya, you can actually change the world. Never settle for less than that. Maybe you'll change the world by donating critical money to an organization that is doing a lot of good, maybe you'll change it by coming up with a new social innovation, or maybe you'll change it by the work you do. How you change the world will depend on who you are and what your talents are, but remember that you can leave an impact on this Earth that will create so much happiness. Please don't waste that potential. Never forget that.