Lessons in Latin America Oct07

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Lessons in Latin America

PuntadelEsteThe fact that I am sitting here back in Texas after spending seven weeks in Latin America seems completely surreal. It’s been one and a half months since our return to the U.S., yet I still find that words describing this summer fail to do my experience justice. I was blessed with the opportunity to visit three countries while abroad: Uruguay, Argentina, and Peru. Each was a uniquely different experience and presented a new perspective on Latin American culture and allowed us a glimpse into various subcultures found within each specific region. Prior to this year, I had never even considered studying abroad; frankly, I didn’t see how I could afford this type of elective experience. And as a Pre-med/Biochemistry major, I wondered if I could really spend a whole semester away without falling behind on my degree plan. Thinking back on how everything fell into place, I can’t help but believe that God had a hand in sending me overseas. The things I learned and friendships I gained are irreplaceable. Studying abroad was never part of the original plan, but I can say without a shadow of a doubt that choosing to embark on this adventure was the best decision I’ve ever made.

We primarily stayed in Montevideo to study global healthcare and ministry in Latin America. The beauty of studying these particular subjects abroad was that it enabled us to integrate firsthand experiences from living in a foreign country to the coursework, enhancing our discussions and the course material. Shadowing Uruguayan healthcare professionals, mingling with different churches/church members, and attending Spanish-speaking events helped immerse us into the Uruguayan way of life. From bargaining for produce at street markets to greeting everyone with a kiss on the cheek, life in Uruguay was far from what I was accustomed to. Uruguayans prefer to live by taking it in, taking it slow, and pausing to always make time for friends and family along the way. They bask in one another’s company and don’t restrict themselves to living by a set schedule. At first, I couldn’t understand how they could be so lax. Didn’t these people have things to do? But as the semester progressed, I came to admire their mindset of putting people and relationships first. If we don’t cherish those we love and care about, what does that say about what we truly value in life? Do our actions match our professed priorities? I know I can only expect to become busier and busier in the upcoming semesters. Nevertheless, Uruguayans have set a wonderful example of how important it is to always make time for the people in your life—something I intend to always remember.

This year our stay overlapped with the World Cup. While its generally safe to characterize Uruguayans as a laid-back, yerba-mate-sipping, grounded group of people, whenPeru11 it comes to fútbol it’s a whole different story. The passion and intensity with which Uruguayans approached the sport was both admirable and terrifying, all in the best way possible. The cheering, the flag-waving, the overwhelming amount of white and blue—it was absolutely insane. After a win everyone would rush out into the streets and celebrate for hours by blowing horns, running with flags, waving banners, etc. We actually had a delayed start to shadowing at the hospital one morning because they knew workers would be coming in late thanks to Uruguay’s win the previous day.

Public transportation in Latin America is huge. Buses, taxis, and our own two legs were our primary modes of transportation. Although it was overwhelming at first, as time went on I came to appreciate both the convenience and spontaneity of bus hopping. Of course, there were times when we missed our stop or had missed our bus leaving the station. But in each instance, we eventually always found our way. Those buses taught me two valuable lessons: 1) life doesn’t follow your personal agenda and 2) trust in the power of teamwork. I’m directionally challenged and tend to rely on my phone/GPS to get around, but thanks to the unaffordability of international data plans, I was all but forced to begin working towards my navigational independence. Study abroad helped me confront something I’ve wanted to address for years. I’m still no public-transit professional, but going through this experience with others allowed me to be more daring and to learn a lot about myself.

IMG_5335As an Asian-American, I’m no stranger when it comes to cross-cultural experiences. Growing up in an environment where I was constantly exposured to multiple languages and cultures made it easy for me to overlook the value in multicultural enrichment. In other words, I took my dual-culture upbringing for granted. Being a foreigner in Latin America was a refreshing reminder of how special it is to be a part of America’s cultural melting pot. Living beyond the boarders of the United States allowed me to gain objectivity in my views and opinions. As daunting as it was, living as a foreigner for two months was a very humbling experience. Now that I am settling back into reality and gearing up for the semester, our time in Latin America feels like a dream. From hiking up 2,720 meters of Peruvian terrain at Wayna Picchu to wandering the streets of Montevideo, this summer was full of memories, friendships, and experiences that I know I will cherish forever.