A Love Letter to the Humans of ISLC 2015

Running on a grand total of 3 hours of sleep in the past two days (unfortunately this is not an exaggeration) and reflecting on my experience at Operation Smile’s leadership conference.


To the McGees and Operation Smile:

Thank you for the work you are doing and the change you are creating. Thank you for caring so much that your voice breaks at the memory and sight of the struggles of others a world away. Thank you for changing the lives of others near and far.

Service project: making felt crowns for Op Smile patients.

To the fantastic keynote speakers who took the time to talk to over 500 teenagers:

The amazing Emily Greener, cofounder of I Am That Girl

 Thank you for inspiring me with your words and, more importantly, your actions. For showing that no matter what challenges or obstacle you face, you can do great things and change the world. For not only talking the talk, but living the life.


Terry Hawkins, one of the top motivational speakers in Australia

To the organizers who made the whole thing happen and tried to cram a week’s worth of activities into half that time:

Thank you for making this experience possible. For bringing all these people together. Also, thank you for letting me learn from your mistakes: always bring enough water, and have a respect for transitions. Thank you for providing me the opportunity to learn more about myself and what I need to stay healthy mentally and physically, how crucial it is to make time to get enough sleep, to exercise, to relax, to practice yoga – thank you for highlighting the importance of these things through their absence. 

NATO scholarship crew

To all the amazing people I met, especially those I am honored enough to call my squad friends: 

Team Jellyfish
Team Jellyfish


Thank you for all the amazing things you have done and ideas and conversations we have shared. For the funky dance moves and earnest confessions, for the hilarious accents and untranslatable words and vaguely offensive jokes and complete acceptance of each other. Thank you a millions times over for being you! 💕

squad: VA, LA, Newport Beach, Sweden x2

But I must say, this is truly a love letter to another group of people I encountered.

This is a love letter to the people at the conference who favored going out for fast food over contributing to the welfare of malnourished children;

To the clique that chose tearing down others and each other over learning about building up our impoverished sisters around the world;

To those who would rather compare and judge clothing brands and cars than initiate change and help others;

To those who were more interested in flirting than learning;

To those who were priveledged enough to be able, physically and financially, to attend this amazing conference, yet took that priveledge for granted;

To those more concerned with the number likes and followers than the number of deaths from Ebola;

To those who’d rather smile away for a selfie than help raise money for a child with a cleft lip or palate;

To the girl who said she wanted to go on an Operation Smile mission for ‘all the cute profile photo opportunities’ rather than to help others;

To every single person I encountered who made me feel ashamed of my narcissistic and shallow generation:

Thank you.

When the top speaker in Australia looked around the room and said ‘Every single person sitting here in this room is the future. YOU are all the future,’ and I felt sick to my stomach, it was people like you that helped me appreciate the amazing friends I made even more, shining like stars through an urban haze.

Thank you for reminding me to take advantage of the present moment and never take anything for granted. For teaching me to be conscious of the energy I send out into the world, since it multiplies and makes its way back to me. Thank you for being living examples of how little we are able to accomplish when we let the opinions of others as well as our own egos and insecurities control us. Thank you for confirming my dedication to staying authentic and true to my core values. For reaffirming how vital it is to prioritize self-love over status, to not let the opinions of the mainstream determine our self-worth.

mural by Kreashun

Thank you for showing me that value lies not in nobleness of action, but in nobleness of purpose. While our actions are what the world sees, it is our motivations that are a reflection of our true selves. Thank you for installing me with a healthy fear of shallowness and superficiality, of blindly going through life following the expectations of others. Thank you for reminding me to be kind under all circumstances, to never forget the underlying worth of every single human being, to practice gratitude at every opportunity, and to learn from everyone whose path crosses mine. Thank you for serving as proof that I am not happier playing it safe and doing what everyone else is doing, no matter how terrifying staying true to myself can seem.

ISLC 2015

So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for all the lessons you have unwittingly taught me. Though I initially left California feeling sickened and disheartened, I am now nothing but grateful for all I have, and determined to be more and do more to create a positive impact on everyone I meet, and to continue to surround myself with a diverse range of positive people.

27 countries represented

To the humans of ISLC 2015, if you haven’t already, I hope one day you will all learn these lessons as well, and learn to value yourself and not others opinions of you. I promise it is  a blindingly brilliant way to live this life.



P.S. Check out www.operationsmile.org for more info and to make a difference!
Much love,



  1. Hi Susan, I am really enjoying reading about your adventurous summer.. Your love letters are very special, real and transparent. You let us all know what you are feeling and experiencing, and bring us into the adventures with you.

    What a wonderful travel log you are compiling for the future, and your readers are enjoying the trip with you. Thanks
    Love and blessings,
    Dana page

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