The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Study abroad diaries: Merida, Mexico (part 10: The Final Word)

After having completed something as extraordinary as bettering the lives of a group of kids in a community that isn’t blessed with all the resources in the world you would expect to feel a great sense of communal achievement and happiness, although as I look back on my experience as it’s coming to an end, I don’t seem to have the feelings I thought I would.

It’s a kind of sadness, like a young boy watching his last hopes of excitement and joy set behind the horizon before the first day of school begins the follow day. A sort of guilt that comes from feeling emotionally and physically attached to the lives of these kids and the fact that I’m now leaving to go back home to a world of comfort and stability. It’s a dichotomy I hadn’t thought would surface as I looked back on my study abroad experience.

The little things that hadn’t meant anything at the time now mean the world. All the customized handshakes, stares of affirmation without a single word, and the long embraces that didn’t trigger tears because I knew I would see them again, until now. As I stared deep into their eyes I wondered if they’d remember me, if they’d remember the little things as I have started to now.

There’s no question that we made an impact while being here, but what I find myself not being able to reconcile is the uncertainty of whether this foundation that we all worked so hard to create will continue as the next group won’t be back in the community until next winter, another year. In no way does this take away from the fond memories that were made, the people that I met along the way, and frankly making the best decision of my life to date, I wouldn’t change anything for the world.

Although at the moment the weight seems like something that will force me to my knees, I know that when I return and step away from my time here and start to see it from the outside looking in I’ll be able to recognize all of the positivity that was created throughout my time here and the life lessons that I learned and will forever hold onto.

Articulating what this all means at this point in time is a difficult thing to figure out. In all honesty, I haven’t seen the meaning of everything come full circle yet. The fact that I’m leaving this place hasn’t quite hit me and I don’t think that it’s going to until I wake up and know that I won’t be traveling down to the Emiliano Zapata Sur community to see the smiling faces that have greeted me since day one with open arms. Only when that realization appears will it all feel real.

I’ve always had troubling verbalizing what I feel, but have never had any difficulties writing them all down and sorting them out, until now. My mind is a cluster of conversations, mental images, feelings and thoughts that are still waiting to be sorted out. Coming into a study abroad program three months seems like an eternity until you start to form the bonds that you inevitably will and the time slowly starts to elude you. Before you know it, what once was three long months has morphed into ten short weeks and you get the feeling that you need just a little bit more time, just one more chance to see the kids.

Dramatic? More than likely. Overly emotional? Of course. It’s a fair critique, an expected judgment of my reflections coming from somebody who hasn’t faced what I have. I had those same thoughts and reactions; they’re easy to develop when you haven’t experienced forming the types of relationships that I have with the people that are confronted with poverty and injustice first hand. Only until you actively partake in being apart of the solution will the meaning hidden beneath the surface of social justice come to light.

Through this entire journey my perspective has transformed into something I’m comfortable voicing and defending, but it didn’t come without hard work and active participation in the different things I was presented with. The amount of change that I’ve been lucky enough to witness within our group has been truly remarkable. Group members who started timid and unsure of their stances now speak with conviction and a passion burning deep within them to change their surroundings and the way in which people perceive those surroundings. When you look at humanity at its core, each and every one of us are one in the same, it’s our perspective that sways that notion.

Sometimes disregarding how things are perceived to be is what needs to be done to see more clearly. Events and people are presented to us in a variety of different ways each day, but how can you support any of these claims until you’ve experienced and witnessed those things first hand? Poverty and injustice aren’t any certain group of people’s problems, they’re not “their” problems, they’re humanities problems, they’re our problems. As Chuck Palahniukonce said, “The trick to forgetting the big picture is to look at everything close up.”

That last bus ride was harder than I ever could have thought. Like being cut from the junior high basketball team, or graduating high school and moving onto new things. I know that it’s time to take what I’ve learned to new places and spread this knowledge, but I can’t help but think selfishly and want to stay here with these kids, the kids who deserve the world.

At first glance the world seems like a pretty big place full of people that you couldn’t possibly have anything in common with, only until you step out of that bubble you’ve been living in all your life. Perspective is a beautiful thing, and to have it is rare, but to embrace it is a thing of beauty.

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