Dear Ecuador Fellows

By Audrey Carver

Dear Ecuador fellows,

During last week’s trip to Manta, in the 15 hours crammed into a busetta, I had lots of time to think about you all. We slept, sang, and ate ridiculous amounts of animal crackers. We talked about the moral obligations of warfare and social hierarchy, and somehow devolved into deliriously playing the triangle game in a guayacil mall.
The day ended hugging at the top of a mountain, watching the most beautiful sunset that I have ever seen. Sad music gave soundtrack to the clouds lapping at the foothills, the orange-streaked sky, and the endless horizon. We stood there looking into a bigger moment, of feeling alone and connected and sad and happy, experiencing a simple moment of beauty and youth, far from home, together.
When I decided to come to Ecuador, I was most scared of being alone. I had known my friends at home longer than my own sister, lived at their houses, and called their parents ‘mom and dad’. The idea of meeting new people, being given a new set of people to spend time with, terrified me. Coming from such a small and isolated town, I had never had to be myself in front of someone new. It was one of the hardest things that I have ever done.
Three months in, though, I have been met with only love and kindness, and I am writing this to repay with some love of my own.

I love that Kelsey will walk to my house with pan or manicho or matching tears when she hears that I am having a bad day
I love that Henry always has the right music, and will play it loudly.
I love that on Wednesdays, Maxwell and I meet in Amauta and discuss our non-existent love lives
I love that Chastity doesn’t complain that I ask her to translate literally everything, and that we bonded over the 27 bus the first week here
I love that Jen always has it together when nobody else does
I love that Stephanie always makes plans so that I do not have to, always picks up her ecuaphone when nobody else does, and always has a terrible chick-flick recommendation
I love that Elizabeth embodies “laugh so that you do not cry”, and will meet me at the river at lunch to do just that
I love that Maxine pretends to hate us, but that we catch him laughing along
I love that Maxito uses the sus kind of California slang, and is hella good at dancing.

I love our Sunday movies, our half-hearted Halloween celebrations, and how it takes an hour of wandering to figure out what we are going to do. I love that we always listen to early 2000s emo music together, and sing every word. I love that you will help keep men from shamelessly harassing me on the street, and that we can laugh instead of cry. I love that I can wear my glasses without feeling self-conscious.

I love having a community to count on, because my biggest fear in coming here turned out to be one of the best parts.

Thank you for taking such good care of me,
Audrey

Strengthening My Independence

By Leonardo Ruiz

Before coming to Brazil, I never really walked anywhere. Being from rural Tennessee, I was always forced to drive to places. The only times I actually went out and walked was on my way to my car. For this reason, one of the biggest changes I have faced here is the amount of walking I do. Until recently, it never occurred to me that it would be smart to start using a bike to get around my neighborhood. I can’t remember the last time I rode a bicycle. Fortunately for me, my host father has a brand-new bike he never got around to use. It had definitely been a long time since I had mounted a bicycle but once I got on, it was as easy as riding a bike. I did not expect that something as simple as riding a bike could be as exciting and freeing as it was. I could not help but to smile ear to ear as I sped up and felt the wind on my face. As I biked, I saw parts of my community that I didn’t realize were so close to me—cafés, stores, and even the Florianopolis botanical garden. It was at this time that I also noticed that there was so many people on bicycles. I realized then that I was part of this community, except that unlike everyone else I was actually wearing a helmet—and a slightly over sized one at that. I gained a new sense of independence at that moment.

I am used to being independent. Growing up with parents who did not speak English, I was forced to grow up. I realized that I, in some way, had to be my own parent. I would fill out and sign parent forms, field trip forms, doctor forms. Senior year of high school, when college loomed, I dove headfirst into the college application process mostly alone. I scheduled and took standardized tests, filled out FAFSA, poured my heart out on essays, and everything else that is required in the pursuit of a higher education. Although this independence has certainly been beneficial here, living in foreign country requires another type of independence—another kind. The kind of independence that allows for one to go out into a foreign world with minimal language skills. An independence that permits one to realize that sometimes it is necessary to reach out for help—that facing something alone is not always the best way.

So, as I pedaled faster and faster, I made a decision. A decision that for the longest time, I knew I had to make. I had been avoiding the issue for weeks, but that bike ride finally convinced me to move forward. It involved my host family. I won’t get into specifics, but I realized that we were not a good fit. I realized that I was not improving the way I wanted to because of this mismatch. I realized I needed a change.

All the Amazing Conversations

By Sophie von Muench

The other day, my host father asked me what I talked about all day. I could only laugh, because I had no idea how to begin explaining the conversations I have most days. After thinking about it, however, I realized that the conversations I have had here in Brazil have been the most formative part of my experience. So, here is a taste of some conversations I’ve had within the last couple months. 

  • How to firmly tell a whining, crying 8 year old to stop it, and why it is important
    • While one part of this is very easy for me to understand, the other is extremely difficult for me to do without feeling like a terrible person. 
  • The importance of alone time
    • The previous conversation led directly to this one. My host sister wants to stay with me at all times, including when one of us is in the bathroom. Also when I am working, or trying to sleep, or even when she’s playing with her cousin. She also doesn’t appreciate it when I stay out too late (i.e. 7:30 pm), because I miss three whole hours of playtime, and asks me to hurry home after work next time. However, we are making progress, as she now generally complains about me leaving without screaming and crying.

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My 1+4 Story: Stone

By Stone 

Before my gap year, I was thinking of majoring in International Relations, Political Science or something related. Because of my experiences in Nicaragua and at Tufts since then, I have realized that though those relatively mainstream majors would look good to employers, they won’t give me the skills I need to accomplish what I want to do in life. The work I did last year on my CBIP (community based initiative process project) and a gap-participant organized workshop on the environmental impacts of littering combined with a city-wide trash cleanup event gave me experience with grassroots community development/leadership projects. This helped me figure out that these type of projects, on various issues and scales, are what I want to be the focus of my future career.

I went into the Tufts 1+4 orientation with about as much good intentions as ignorance. All I knew was that I wanted to help people less fortunate than me, but had little idea how to go about doing it. I was brought up surrounded by stories of individuals who went to far off lands and nearly single-handedly “fixed” the locals’ problems, commercials advertising the good feeling one could get from “saving” a child’s future for the small price of a cup of coffee, and the general culture of American superiority and white/western saviorism. As a result, I greatly overestimated my abilities, usefulness, knowledge, and irreproachability of my intentions. The Tufts and Amigos orientations and workshops opened my eyes to the way that white/western saviorism, voluntourism, and the desire to assuage personal guilt factored into my views and motivations. They educated me on the importance of working with and learning from community members and the value of sometimes taking a backseat or behind-the-scenes role in the process. If I made myself indispensable to the changes the projects enact, they would collapse when I left, rendering my work entirely useless in the long term. Through my projects I got to put my new knowledge to use and see how fully respecting, valuing, and engaging community members not only added to the quality of my projects but also of my friendships and experience as a whole.

Having returned from Nicaragua and entered college, my experiences there directly shape my decisions today. I realized that the most important things I learned last year aren’t the type of things that I would learn in a “normal” major. Most degrees would give me academic knowledge that I could then apply to actual jobs in relatively structured, rigid ways. If I only train for one thing, I will only be able to do one thing. If that one thing was exactly what I wanted to do, then that would be fine, but unfortunately, International Development is not an undergraduate major offered at Tufts. Working on grassroots level community development projects requires a host of abilities. Therefore, an interdisciplinary major is what I need in order to develop a well-rounded set of skills that I can apply to a variety of different projects in my future.

Peace and Justice Studies seems to me to be the best fitting major. Through it, I can learn about problems nationally and internationally that cause unrest and inequality on different scales, as well as potential solutions. It also has enough flexibility for me to choose how much I focus on each of those areas. Its internship-class combination requirement would let me use my knowledge in real-life situations and reflect on the process in a classroom environment in a way that would really round out my skills. The fact that I can major in it alone will allow me to take other classes in Economics, Education, and Global Health that will give me knowledge that I know will be important to my career, but are not necessary to the major.

However, the Peace and Justice Studies major is likely going to be replaced with Civic Studies. While Civic Studies compliments many of my interests, I am worried that it will not have a sufficiently international focus and will concentrate too much on government for my needs. I definitely want to work mostly abroad and in an NGO. I think that the US government generally approaches international projects with a savior mentality, and national governments in general are too large and disconnected from individuals to make the kind of changes that I want to make. Also, Civic Studies will only be offered as a second major. Thus, I would have only three years to fulfill the requirements of it and another major, giving me no time to take outside classes.

When it comes to getting a second major alongside PJS or Civic Studies, my experiences last year have informed my views there too. I now know that it would be a waste to take classes with the primary purpose of getting a degree and having something official on my resume. Their primary purpose should be to effectively give me one or multiple skills that will help me in my future. I did previously consider double majoring in Spanish, but ended up deciding not too. While I have already taken Spanish classes at Tufts and do intend to take more, I know that I don’t have to actually major in in Spanish in order for it to mean something.

Languages are not my strong suit and majoring in one would add a huge amount of unnecessary stress to my life. If I majored in it, a skill level near native fluency would be expected of me, which taking even ten Spanish classes would not give me. What I should do instead is to take enough classes to improve my skills, but then rely on using them in real world situations to get them beyond the point that I could from just classes. I’m also trying to take interdisciplinary Spanish classes. Analyzing fifteenth century Spanish literature on its own is not going to get me much of anywhere. But analyzing the relationship between different groups of people and the earth during the Spanish conquest of the Americas and onwards, as I do in my Spanish 22 Tierra, Clima, y Justicia class, will give me historical context to more deeply understand modern day dynamics in interactions between different peoples, the environment, and each other.

All in all, my gap year widened my view of the world and made me more certain of my choice of future career. My experiences gave me better priorities, rekindled my intrinsic motivations for learning, and redefined my ideas of success. Instead of wanting credentials that look good on paper, I want to expand my knowledge in useful ways and have the freedom to explore. I matured a lot last year in ways that make me more prepared to fully take advantage of my college experience to prepare for a better future.

Saturday Morning

By Katherine Wang

This post started out as a “day-in-the-life” but ended up taking a turn after I was inspired by Adam Phillips’s Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life  (https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/08/17/missing-out-adam-phillips/) and Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. These are recent thoughts and photos. Interestingly enough, I took these pictures to test out my grandfather’s camera (left to me after he passed away), not intending to overlay text onto them. 

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