Sitting on the bus leaving Merida feels like the perfect time to reflect on the incredible experience I have had here in Mexico. I’ve been in the country for 6 weeks and worked with IVHQ and their local partner organization for 4 of those weeks. I had planned to head home a week ago but guess what, I’m still here.
To say I was confused before I came here would be a huge understatement. I didn’t know what I wanted to eat for dinner, never mind what job I wanted to have or what city I wanted to live in. Being a recent college graduate, it was the first time in my life that I did not have something planned out for me. It was exciting, of course, but also terrifying.
Amongst all the possibilities and directions I could take my life, traveling was the one thing that I was 100% sure I wanted to do. Deciding to take a trip and volunteer abroad was easy. Deciding where to go and what to do was the more difficult part. I looked through all the programs with IVHQ and when I got to Mexico, it just felt right. I went with my gut feeling and picked Mexico and am so glad I did.
Before this trip I had traveled a little bit. I did a study abroad program in Spain and took another trip there the following year. I thought I knew things about different countries – I thought I was cultured and “cool” because I had been to another country. It wasn’t until I arrived in Mexico that I realized how little of the world I have actually seen and how little I understand. The more you learn the less you know I guess.
I chose the Teaching English program in Merida and was placed at an elementary school named Serapio. I had never taught anything a day in my life. I wasn’t nervous to start – I was scared. I feel silly about that now because, of course, first thing when I walk into the school I am getting hugs from tiny strangers who are so incredibly curious and interested in me. The kids were so kind it hurt. I got gifts and notes from several of the students just on my second day. I realized that day that while I made this trip to make a difference in their community, I am more so making a difference within myself. Those kids have no idea what kind of impact they have made on my life and I hope that I was able to make some sort of impact on their lives as well.
The volunteer experience isn’t just about the volunteer work either. The amazing people I have met and the friends I have made will never be forgotten. Traveling with IVHQ and living at the volunteer house has allowed me to meet other volunteers from all over the world that I would not have otherwise met. I made friends with people I can’t imagine not knowing before and I made memories that will stay with me for a lifetime. I have so much fun with the other volunteers but am also able to learn from them. That may be the difference in a one-hump and a two-hump camel (thanks to my friend Stone for that one) or how to love yourself and be adaptable to change.
As mentioned before, I am still here in Mexico. After four weeks at the volunteer house and a week traveling with my Mom, I decided I wasn’t ready to go home yet. I canceled my flight and stayed one more week in Merida. That week is now up and I am headed for Playa Del Carmen with my new friends and volunteers. I don’t have any plans past Sunday. I don’t know where I will be traveling or for how long. If you knew me at all you would know that is crazy. I am a huge planner and always have a schedule. This is just one example of how this trip as changed me.
I am not a completely different person. I am still the friend or family member that everyone knows me as back home. I am changing, though. Or maybe it isn’t change that is happening but a discovery. I am turning into the person I am supposed to be and this trip has helped me do that.
To those who are thinking about volunteering and traveling – I cannot tell you that it will be the best time of your life. I cannot tell you that you will make a bunch of friends and make a difference and become a better person. Everyone’s experience is different. I can tell you, though, that this was the best decision I could have made for myself at this time. I don’t have all the answers now or know what career path I want to take or where I want to live. However I do have a better idea. I know that I want to keep having adventures and that I can make them happen if I really want to. I know that I can live day-to-day, moment-to-moment, and make decisions based on how I feel NOW, not how I think I might feel in the future. My perspective has changed, I am so excited to continue to learn about myself and this big, crazy world that we live in.