Apr 25, 2012

Q1 How did your DE Colombia experience change you? Your life? One way you see the world?

Jessica David

·         I would say that my DukeEngage experience has changed the way I see the world. My view isn’t as limited as it used to be. Nigerian author, Chimamanda Adichie once said, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” I can happily state that I have gained another view of the story of Medellín. Participating in this experience allowed me the opportunity to immerse myself in a new culture and to engage with natives. I was able to listen to the personal stories of displaced families and witness their transformation process firsthand. I became part of the transforming city, as did my fellow DukeEngage participants, because our work is now a part of history.

There is one instance that I will never forget. It wasn’t until last night that I realized it had an impact on Jota as much it had on me. We were visiting a Juvenile Addiction Facility in Medellín. I believe the ages of the children spanned from as young as 7 to as old as 18. Many of these children had left their homes and were living on the streets and had been involved in the trafficking and consumption of illicit drugs. As we entered one of the large rooms, the children were practicing drills as their chaperon shouted commands. When the children were told that they could greet us, they rushed to examine the faces of the Americans that had occupied their space. One young girl with a complexion identical to my own came up to me. She clapped her hands and jumped up and down. She was so amazed that I, an American, looked like her. Her gestures and expressions said, “You look just like me.” I think that moment opened her eyes. She no longer viewed Americans as white, blonde hair and blue-eyed individuals. I had added to her American story just by being present. For me, that was one of the greatest experiences I could have ever been a part of.

Gabriela Arredondo-Santisteban

My DE Colombia experience changed me the moment I left the comforts of my home. Never had I spent that much time away from my house, my friends, and especially my family. Seeing my mom cry as I went through security in the airport made me realize how much I depend on my family being close by whenever I need them. I was born and raised in Durham and at Duke I make an effort to see my parents often and go home for the occasional dinner. Going to Colombia gave me a chance to be challenged away from the security of home. Instead of feeling scared, I felt empowered. I never felt endangered or even homesick while in Colombia. Medellín felt like a city I was always meant to be in. What impacted me the most were the people and their generosity. From the compañeros to the families I interviewed, they all welcomed me into their lives with the true intent of getting to know me. Before Medellín I kept myself guarded and often felt tentative going into new situations. Medellín taught me how to embrace new challenges and be my true self. All these people changed my world, and in return I hope I left them with a little piece of the real me.

 Cassidy Fleck

The work I did in Colombia, the people I met along with the social and economic conditions I witnessed were enough to make a lasting impression in so many facets of my life. I could choose to cite any of eight week’s worth of experiences, but the one that is most pertinent to me now is how my relationship with my companeros and with their work exposed me to art in a way I had never been before. I connected with some of my companeros better than I have connected with many students at Duke. They were artists, passionate and brilliant. Listening to them describe their work and the way they applied their art to social issues gave me a completely different perspective on artists and the potential art has as an outlet for social change. I remember skyping Lucho until dawn one morning, grilling him about his final project with Leidy. They were designing public housing, but the design emphasized privacy as well as efficiency, giving its residents the dignity they deserved.
I never considered myself an artist, calling myself one always felt pretentious. My parents see art as a commodity, not a way of living, and it has taken me most of my undergraduate career to embrace my identity as an artist. I never thought of myself this way until I got to spend eight weeks with the companeros.
            I’ve always loved writing, but I saw my ability to write more as a parlor trick or a resume skill to be listed and then passed over. But when I got back from Colombia, I enrolled in two creative writing classes and began to slowly take myself more seriously. This put me at odds with my parents. My friends, too, thought I was playing. They saw my major as a cop-out to more hard-core areas of study and this attitude carries over to the university itself. Duke does not have a very rich arts community, nor does it encourage its students to pursue arts-related careers. But I kept writing. I wrote a creative thesis that I hope to publish this summer. I work-shopped with authors when they came to campus. I threw myself into the community at the Center for Documentary Studies. I guess you could say that Colombia was the catalyst for this change. 

Gideon Rosenthal

Although the work we did was extremely important, it is not something to think about on a consistent basis. However, after leaving Medellin and travelling to London to study abroad, I began to truly appreciate the notion of hospitality. In fact, both countries share similar social etiquettes when hosting a guest. It something that as a country, I think American society truly lacks. Arriving in someone’s impoverished home in Moravia or a lavish one in Chelsea, you are immediately greeted with either a cup of tea or a tinto. Its requires very little of the host, but undoubtedly means a great deal for the visitor. But this extends far beyond coffee. It reflects the sentiment inherent in both of these societies. Hopefully its something we could try to bring to the States by offering visitors some sort of caffeinated beverage as soon as they walk in the door.

Additionally, Duke Engage taught me a lot about the notion of mobility. As Americans, we have the ability to travel anywhere we want. Never are we restricted access to a foreign country because of our nationality. However, this is simply not the case with citizens of other countries. For instance, Colombians have an extremely difficult time acquiring visas to visit other countries. Mobility it something we take for granted, and is something that not everyone in the world is able to enjoy. 
Natalie Robles 

Our trip to Medellín was much more than an “experience.” It was a shift in my lifestyle. I had originally thought that at some point in my Duke career that I’d do DukeEngage. Friends of friends had told me that it was extremely competitive. But after applying for both DukeEngage Colombia and Duke in NY, my life took a really, sharp turn. I was about to travel the world on my own for the first time. It’s all that I could have ever hoped for, but it also seemed overwhelmingly surreal. People traveled the world all of the time. After the trip is over with, their lives move on. Right? Of course, it’ll affect them. But it won’t determine how they act the rest of their life. People, especially Duke students, knew how to take on these kind of experiences. It was a part of a Duke students’ life, right? A part of their skills set, right?
Well, after the trip was said and done, and I’d spent two months immersed in the Colombian culture, a culture that had been somewhat hazy to me for years, I felt both enlightened and assured of some things, and even hazier about other things. I knew that I was now interested in doing something with documentary studies further down the line. I also knew that I wanted to return to Colombia some day, and hopefully someday soon.
But I’d also come to Colombia not only on a Duke program, but without my actual Colombian family. I’d met my Colombian cousins while I was there, but it wasn’t the same. I’d connected so much with my Colombian host family, but even so, this process of getting to know my Colombian side and culture felt odd. It wasn’t the “traditional” way to do it, and for that reason, it felt somehow unsatisfying. I didn’t know how to interpret anything. I wanted to have my family there with me, because it was hard to talk to anyone about it. I felt as though my host family didn’t understand the frustration I’d experienced living such a split, bi-cultural life; they only saw me as a estadounidense. My peers didn’t seem to understand how I felt as a very confused individual in the middle of what was supposedly a country that was a part of my identity, so I felt uncomfortable to reach out to them. And when I finally came back home and told my family about my time in Colombia, they were emotionally unable to understand what it was I did. Either they’d cry and look to me, finally understanding what I’d been telling them I was doing all along. But they also couldn’t fathom the experience I’d just had. It was too personal, too raw, too hard to process even when I was there.
Of course, there was my Colombian father, who hadn’t been in the picture for several years. That is, until I landed in Medellín. I had a feeling he was thinking, “Wait, this is my country; my home. I need to guide her.” So we began talking, and he would recommend places I should go and see…but it was never a form of complete connection. Between me and him. Between me and my mom’s family. My host family. My friends in Colombia. I still feel like I’m caught in a dream-like haze, and wonder, “Did that actually happen?” I yearn to go back so I can connect again with those people, that food, those buildings, that smell, that feeling. Two months was not long enough, and now I find myself even more confused about my identity. As my host mom once said, “Eres colombamericana.” Now, I don’t feel like I’m anything.