Connections and Divergences

By Justin Mejia

Holy cow it has already been seven months! Time has flown by and I cannot believe this incredible experience is almost over. Eight countries, a spanish accent, and one million paellas later I am still here in Madrid loving where I work and hating the idea of leaving. I am not looking forward to saying goodbye to the educators and my boys whom I’ve watched (and helped) develop and grow these past months. I have definitely grown as well and I’m not just talking about my hair. After this experience, I will definitely have a more worldly and humble perspective as I continue my life post 1+4. I will appreciate everything I have at home and continue to desire travelling the world. In fact, being here has done the opposite of satisfy my travel bug- I have come to accept the “bug” as a pet that will not run away anytime soon.

justin 1Looking into the future I am excited for the last two months here in Europe, but honestly I suppose I am also excited to go home. I miss my family and friends and would do anything to give my little brother a manly bear hug with manly tears of joy. My mom sends me pictures of herself and my brother regularly to make sure I don’t forget what they look like. My dad has been keeping me updated by sending me videos of my sister’s progression from first steps to adorable dance moves. Therefore, I am happy here in Spain and will be happy when I get back home to the States. Life is pretty good.

So how does my experience compare to my peers? Well, honestly I cannot say for sure. Literally all fifteen of us are having completely different experiences and I guess I can find some similarities between us too. I know Gabriel is working with monkeys. While I do have some doubts I’m pretty sure the kids I work with are in fact human children, so there’s one difference. Aberdeen spent the beginning of her time in Brazil whale watching. Besides a few tourists, I don’t think I’ve spotted any whales here in Madrid, so there’s another pretty big difference.

In all seriousness, through communication with my peer connection group, I do have some insights from my fellow fellows in Nicaragua and Brazil. Abigail says her time in Nicaragua “doesn’t feel like real life,” like she is separated from the rest of the world. I think this is a really interesting thought because I can relate but at the same time feel the opposite way. We are away from our “normal” lives back in the States doing our respective volunteer work, basically living another life from what we are used to. However, here in Europe, life feels more real to me.

justin 2I’ve done lots of traveling and places that were just fairy tales in my head have become reality in front my eyes. I’ve visited so many amazing cities and feel less blind to the world around me. On a darker note, I am physically much closer to all these unfortunate events happening in Europe and the Middle East, which does have an influence on my experience here.

Elaine feels like she is finally in the rhythm at her placement after 6 months. What is interesting is that even though we are working completely different jobs, I also feel like I just got into the rhythm very recently. I am finally at the point where me, my co-workers, and the children are on the same page at the home. We have an efficient working schedule to get through the day as smoothly as possible which is in clear contrast to when I first arrived. Additionally, my bond with the children is much stronger by now, so it makes things a lot easier. Daniel says he is “going to cry a lot.” He is referring to the bond he has with his host family and the sadness of leaving them when the time comes. While I will definitely miss my boys from work, I don’t think I will feel the same way Daniel does with his host family. I am actually envious of that.

Furthermore, one would think the fellows living in the same countries would have very similar experiences. While this logic is not completely false, I can tell you that the fellows here in Madrid are living very distinct day to day lives. While Madeline, Daniela, Gongga and I work under the same foundation, we are responsible for different homes. For example, my home is all boys in their teens while Gongga’s home is a mixture of younger boys and girls. Therefore, being in separate homes, working different schedules with different educators, and caring for different children has shaped each of our experiences very uniquely. Furthermore, our lives outside of work are also very different. While I’m at the gym, Daniela is volunteering with Clowns Without Borders. While I’m skating or reading at the park, Madeline is helping promote an awesome volunteering app. While I’m volunteering at a marathon, Gongga is probably running it.

Moreover, we don’t even travel to the same places and when we do we have different experiences. I hiked the hills around Toledo to get a view from outside the city walls, while Daniela was exploring the shops within them. While Gongga and I became knights in Medieval cities like Bruges and Prague, Daniela and Maddie turned into vikings in Copenhagen and Oslo. Thus, even us four in one flat live in very different worlds.

justin 3So yes, the fifteen different experiences do connect and diverge in many ways. But as a whole, I believe these adventures are the same for they will have a long standing impact on everyone involved. The diversity in experiences will make for fun storytelling and interesting blog posts. My favorite part of this year is that I can go home prepared and excited to face what I was once afraid of: growing up. So I am looking forward to that and of course – all of us agree that we are excited for college!

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