Stepping into new cultures is often not easy but it helps us to learn and to grow to greater heights. My name is Novuyo Henrietta Ndlovu. I am an IVEP alumna originally from Zimbabwe. I served in Ontario, Canada, in 2009-2010. As far back as I can remember one of my dreams was to travel and learn about different cultures. In 2009, I got an opportunity to travel to Canada to serve with MCC at an Ontario church known as the Meeting House. I served at my organization as a pastoral intern working with a team of pastors. Once a week on Tuesday afternoons I served at a food bank known as Kerr Street Ministries. At the food bank I met many poor people who were struggling with many challenges. I met immigrants, drug addicts and people who were struggling financially. My responsibility was to talk to the people, listen to their stories and sometimes pray with them if they were willing. As an introvert this was very challenging for me at the beginning and I struggled as I did not know how to reach out to these wonderful people. As time passed, I began to build relationships with the people at the centre and I would always look forward to going there. Although they were not very open at first, I found out that as I continued interacting with them and creating a safe space, they felt more at ease and they often would share their stories with me. Sometimes I would sit and listen to them and encourage them and sometimes I would sing with them. My experience at the centre helped me to move out of my comfort zone and one lesson I learnt from my time in Canada is that building relationships is a process and it takes time. It is important to persevere in order for the relationships to grow.
As I connect the dots of my experiences in Canada, I realize that my IVEP experience prepared me for my current journey. I am now serving with MCC as an Exchange Coordinator in Laos. My journey in Laos has been a journey of growth and discovery filled with joys and challenges. At the beginning of my time in Laos I struggled in many ways. Zimbabwe and Laos are different in many aspects and adjusting to life in South East Asia was not easy. I found the food very different and the way of life was very different from what I was used to. In some contexts, I received so much attention because of my appearance. People were often curious about my hair, the colour of my skin, and where I come from and they would often want to take pictures with me. I found this overwhelming at first. However, through prayer and support from MCC I learnt to be patient and appreciate my new context and this has really helped me to enjoy my time in Laos. One of my highlights has been sharing my culture and in turn learning from the Lao culture. I have enjoyed teaching my Lao friends and colleagues African dance and seeing my Lao colleagues engage has really been encouraging. I have also enjoyed participating in activities such as weddings and Lao New Year celebrations. One important lesson that I have learnt through my experiences is that it is important to value diversity and different people from different cultures as it brings in ideas that add uniqueness to a team. As I continue my journey, I hope to keep learning and to continue sharing my culture with other people. I am grateful for this opportunity to serve with MCC.