While traveling, it's always important to ask yourself what your motivation is for traveling. Whether it's to learn a new language, experience the culture, get credits for a class, or just plain to see the sites, the point is to always understand your reasoning. This spring, I was supremely blessed to be able to go to Latin America through Best Semester. I was able to live with host families, receive intensified Spanish instruction, learn about the politics, economics, history, and social functions, AND travel to different parts of the country to experience the wildlife while learning about environmental sustainability. With all that said, I was even able to receive 16 class credits for my degree! Could life get any better?
Although my initial reasoning for going to Latin America was to complete my degree because ironically I HAD to take this semester abroad in order to graduate on time (I use the word "had" very loosely), my motives for that trip and trips to come has significantly altered. While in Costa Rica, where a large chunk of my education took place, our professors did their absolute best to put us in the most uncomfortable situations without preparing us in order to make us grow, be flexible, and most of all, learn to not complain. For a long time, my goal was to make mistakes, feel stupid, and just learn as much as possible. I was constantly being told, "Tranquila” because I wanted to rush everything and be on a schedule. I was quickly broken of that. This was all outside of class. Inside the classroom, our professors taught us of the history of Central America all the way from indigenous inhabitants, to the Spanish colonization, to the neo-colonialism happening today. Through this we learned of the current politics, economics, social, and religious aspects of Central America. What makes the people do the things they do?
The professors not only gave us "U.S. textbook" history, but they brought people in from Costa Rica and other countries that shared their stories and their perspectives of the past colonization and the colonization still happening today. We heard from political leaders, religious leaders, activists, artists, the indigenous population, a man who had lived on a landfill until he was 25 and is now an acclaimed author, handicapped people, farmers, the U.S. embassy, a Mayan priest, missions directors, anyone and everyone who had a voice, our program brought them to talk with us. The point of our education was not to get a bias. We were given equally both sides of the story and told to evaluate where we stand based on the views we had gotten.
I could go on for days, but how could I ever fit four months worth of intensive knowledge into one, tiny blog? In fact, just trying to sum it up like this makes me think I can't do it justice. After my experience in this program my goal now is to live out my beliefs in my own life and encourage others to take some time to step out of their bubbles. I’m grateful for the staff at Latin American Studies Programs. I’m grateful for the environment they created that was safe to struggle with the questions I had. I’m grateful that they allowed me to get off track at times while still encouraging me to continue growing. I’m still processing all I’ve learned, but in my own context. So when you think about traveling and your motives for traveling, consider this: Go to learn. Empty your cup and see it from someone else’s view. Only then will you truly be able to appreciate the different people God has created.
- Megan Hillmann