Apr 25, 2012
Q2 If you could tell people about what you learned in Medellín, what would you really like them to understand?
I learned and experienced a new form of love; a new form of interaction. I want the people I know to understand that there are so many different perspectives on life other than their own, and that the people I met in Colombia have preconceived notions about us. I was put into a city that didn’t understand me, or maybe had little understanding of me, and judged me on the spot. I questioned myself when I was there. Am I really all those things you think about me? Am I a selfish North American who doesn’t give a damn about anything or anyone else in the world? The most jarring experience I had that reflected this was when I met my compañeros for the first time. The four of us sat down at a restaurant, and we all ordered pizza. Alejandro and I had spoken on Facebook beforehand, so we’d gotten to know one another somewhat. Esteban seemed disconnected from the whole program, and only asked me a couple questions, but it was Laura, a compañera that had been around for a few years, who was intent on interrogating me. I was relatively new at this whole speaking-with-native-speakers-in-Spanish thing. So when Laura started firing of the names of capitals around the world and what was going on politically within those cities and countries, I felt pushed up against the wall. Everyone was smiling and laughing, but it was very uncomfortable. I didn’t know the names of most of these places, and after she began to get frustrated with me, she said, “You Americans never think about anyone besides yourselves. You don’t even know what’s going on in the world around you!” Alejandro sympathized with me, but Laura persisted:
“Why is it that everyone else has to know American history, but you don’t learn anything about us?”
I sat there, turning very red, unable to say anything to defend myself, especially in Spanish. Laura threw her hands up in frustration and changed the subject. I thought to myself, I have nothing to say because I feel like I represent everything bad about the United States. I was ashamed of my naivety. I was ashamed of my unwillingness to learn about other countries and their cultures.
So when I came back and spoke with my family, I felt that same fiery passion Laura had. They needed to know, I needed to know, that we weren’t completely alone in this world. I had felt a mother’s love through my host mom; I had become somewhat a part of the Carlos E. community; I had hung out with local college students; I had experienced everything in the same way I would have if I were in the U.S. The word “culture” seems to divide everyone up these days, but I say there’s no divide. There just needs to be more perceptiveness and a keen awareness for others, whether they’re thousands of miles away or right next door. It’s all very elementary, but it seems most of us refuse to accept it.
The one thing I would want people to understand about Medellin is how normal it is, for lack of a better word. The similarities with the U.S. are striking, and I was never remotely culture shocked. Additionally, when describing our companeros, I was hesitant to use the word locals as I felt it had some negative connotations and misrepresented them. Instead, I try to describe them as local college students. That way, I can convey how similar I am to the companeros. Hopefully these sentiments would translate to people understanding the importance of cultures outside of the U.S. I realize now that I’ve been going on a rant about American culture, but once again I feel as if its something we lack. Most Americans have very little interest in what is going on outside our borders or that there are other cultures out there, or that these cultures and people are equally as important.
· Everyone has a story. Some may be filled with more trials and others with more triumphs but that doesn’t add, nor detract from their importance and value. Everyone has a story. So I guess when considering what I would really want others to understand about my trip, I would want them to grasp the magnitude of the project in its entirety—that I was afforded the privilege of hearing and seeing the personal stories of failure and success; that as an outsider, I was invited into the homes of strangers and that they entrusted me with their personal histories. I had very little to offer the families that I sat down with throughout the duration of the trip but the fact that I was willing to listen and document the remarkable facts of their lives was enough for them. They were excited to share with us some of their most valuable possessions—their stories.
If there was one thing I want people to understand about my time in Medellin, it’s that the community I experienced both in Carlos E. and with the cogistores should serve as a model for building community at home. There is so much that can be learned from Medellin, and the strength and attitude of its residents. Too often, people try to impress their systems on a community in need rather than assist and learn from the systems the community already has in place.
I would like people to understand that Medellín is a city represented by the amazing people who live there, not the violence and stigma many outsiders have attached to it. If I could show people how welcomed and at home I felt after only one day in Medellín, I am positive it would change their perspective completely. Never in my life have I grown close with this many people, the compañeros and my fellow DukeEngagers, in such a short span of time.