In Spring 2011, I had the opportunity to attend a regional conference for fraternities and sororities in Orange County, CA through a company called the Association of Fraternal and Leadership Values. In short, the conference was amazing and I was intrigued by a program they promoted to go on a trip to El Salvador and participate in a service-based experience. I was hooked and two years later, I was accepted to attend and spend a part of my Christmas holidays to be in another country helping with various service projects. I wasn't entirely sure what I was expecting from the experience. I was hoping to help out the locals through the service projects and provide a better sense of hope or outlook on life since the lives they led were very simple and uncommon to the way we live in the United States. Instead, they helped me realize much more than I could have imagined. I understood the importance of family, culture, values, faith, and most of all pride in the ability to be bilingual. My parents both grew up in Mexico and eventually immigrated to the United States to provide better opportunities for our family. My mother and father were both very intelligent in school, so much so that they were number one in their class, but lacked speaking English once they established themselves in the U.S. It was difficult for me to see them struggle and as I got older, it seemed that I started to become the translator for our family. More often than not, I would see it as a burden that I was the representative for my family, in a way, because I was the only one that knew fluent, accent less, English. My experience in El Salvador proved otherwise, however. Having the ability to manipulate both languages was beneficial not only to me during that trip, but also the other participants that attended, most of which spoke very little Spanish with the exception of one girl who was close to fluent. My ability to speak Spanish and interact with the locals made me an asset to our group which later made me reflect on the appreciation I had for the improvised training that my parents put me through in my earlier years in life. I thought I was there to do community service, but one morning Sister Gloria, one of our guides during the trip, said something special that I will never forget. She said, "Don't worry so much about the service you will provide the people. Worry more about the connections that you make with them because it is those connections that will last a lifetime whereas the service you provide in the means of building something can be destroyed or vandalized. That really put things into perspective for me. After she said that, I found myself interacting more with the local people. We joked, shared stories, and asked questions to better understand one another. In on instance I remember a young girl asking me why I knew Spanish. I responded by telling her that it was because my parents had taught me and she did not believe me because of the way that I spoke it and in the manner that I said certain things. She said, "You are from Mexico, there is no way that they teach English in the United States." Her statement shocked me and made me all the more appreciative for having been taught Spanish in my youth. In all, the trip was perspective changing. As simple as it may sound, I finally felt special. I understood how important it was to communicate with other people and how crucial it will be for future generations to understand this. Globalization, with the help of technology, is changing the way we think and act. Knowing how to communicate with others will be essential because language is truly beautiful, no matter how little you know. At the end of the day, it helps people connect and create bonds that will last an eternity.
What are the main takeaways from this story?
The most important things that I learned is be happy for what you bring to the table, don't be shy to show people who you are, and have an open mind to new experiences. When you do that, it's easier to have a more entertaining and thought provoking life.
What was the biggest challenge or biggest surprise?
The biggest surprise was that I was the only Latino in a group of 22 people. Though I may have felt alone regarding my background and experiences, I felt that I was not once I connected with the local people and felt an improved sense of pride for my culture.