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As I wrote about in a couple past blog posts (about volunteerism and simplifying your life), I recently spent 15 days in Poland, volunteering for World Youth Day. The experience was powerful, to say the least. Every day, I witnessed thousands upon thousands of young people from all across the world united in a common purpose. But one of the things that struck me most was the warm welcome we received, both from the people of Poland and from the other pilgrims.

As an American, I don’t necessarily expect other countries to welcome me with open arms. There are many ugly preconceived notions about Americans (that we’re spoiled, loud, bullies, etc.), some of which can be true, depending on the American! Many countries also disagree with our foreign policy decisions. With that in mind, I was absolutely shocked when the group of Americans with whom I was traveling experienced nothing but friendly greetings and amicable interactions.

As we traveled through the beautiful Polish countryside and visited quiet, quaint villages that brimmed with amazing history, we were graciously welcomed by the Polish people. They were proud to be hosting World Youth Day and happy that we had traveled to their country to experience the event. Each person in my group did a home stay with a Polish family and, despite language barriers, we were treated respectfully, fed well, and received incredible hospitality.

At the event itself, my group of American youths met and mingled with other youths from 167 countries around the globe. Instead of focusing on their differences and the gaps between them, they focused on their similarities and the things that bound them together. It melted my heart to see so many diverse people hanging out together, eating together, playing Frisbee together (I even saw some nuns and priests tossing a disc around!), getting to know each other…all in a peaceful, harmonious setting.

I think a lot of folks, including our world leaders, could learn from the example of these young people. They focused on building bridges, rather than putting up walls between one another.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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