Creciendo en Cuenca

by AJ Arbuckle

Turi swing

One of the reasons I decided to participate in the 1+4 Program was because I thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to grow as a person. Instead of reentering the familiar structure of school this year, I am navigating the working world of a foreign country, interacting with people by myself in a foreign language everyday, and independently working to create my own structure and routine. So much growing up, learning, and maturing has happened already and I’m only a month and a half into the year. There have been simple learning experiences, such as buying my own toiletries, commuting to work on the bus everyday, navigating the city (and having to ask for directions in Spanish), and managing emails. There have also been more challenging experiences that have facilitated a more profound personal growth, such as forming relationships with my host family, helping to take care of the kids at home occasionally, regularly breaking out of my comfort zone to connect with people I meet here, and creating a productive schedule for myself and by myself. The beautiful thing about this year so far has been that it truly is what you make of it.

Yesterday, I took three classes: a two hour drawing class, an hour long salsa class, and then an hour long muay thai class, one after the other. The drawing and muay thai classes were both not only my first time in the specific class, but also my first time ever learning about those things. I never would have imagined doing these things here, but what I have learned is that if you are willing to put yourself out there and take risks, you can learn new things and grow as a person. I would go so far as to say that that is the only way you can grow as a person. Not only am I learning about those three activities (drawing, dancing, and muay thai), but I am feeling more confident in myself and adventurous. First classes are scary experiences. It’s even scarier when you aren’t speaking your native language and are struggling to communicate and understand basic things. Nonetheless, my risk-taking has payed off. I’ve met new people from these classes, learned new things, and have taken hold of my life like I have never done before. Another thing that I have noticed is that when I am speaking to someone in English–and that’s anyone, familiar or stranger–I feel so comfortable and confident compared to when I’m speaking in Spanish. I believe that this demonstrates the overall growth that I am making for myself here. I remember pondering the benefits to the self that this type of program would begin before I decided to sign up for it, and I wanted to hear more than just learning new things, interacting with new people, expanding my world view, and experiencing personal growth. What I have discovered is that the greatest rewards from this program have been exactly what I was told about. But they are so much more profound than I ever imagined now that I am experiencing them for myself.

Navigating the city with friends

Man at work on La Catedral de la Inmaculada ConcepciĆ³n

Iglesia de Todos Santos