Update After Liberia

I returned from Liberia over two weeks ago and wanted to take this chance to communicate with everybody about my year so far, as well as ask for some support in finding my next step. With nearly four months until I begin college, I am now turning my attention towards finding a job/internship that capitalizes on the themes of my year and serves as a fulfilling end to the wonderful journey I’ve had. It was the support of my friends and family that made this year possible and I hope to rely on your input once again. I hope you will find this summary of the past months of interest.

The first part of my journey was to San Miguel de Allende, a town in central Mexico. I had spent some time there as a child and was introduced to it again through Cristina, a friend of a friend of my family. Through her I was able to connect with an organization outside of San Miguel focused on a community of ranchers who live off the land. Towards the end of September I began my time as a ranch-hand, living in a compound shared by the main ranch-hand and his family. I was able to live a truly beautiful and simple life, without electricity, but filled with hard work, and encompassed by beautiful surroundings. I work up early, had breakfast of coffee and fresh milk, and rode my horse to duties such as building fences, or harvesting crops. I spent nights surrounded by candles, reading, learning Spanish, and bonding with the family.

During the weekends I would catch a ride into town to relax, watch playoff baseball, and experience the wonderful town of San Miguel. During these times I stayed with Cristina who connected me to San Miguel, and quickly she became a friend and guardian. It was during one of those weekends that I met a man who was working on a Rosewood hotel development in town. We became friends and he asked me if I wanted to be his assistant. I made a spontaneous decision to cut my time at the ranch short, and go to work full-time at the hotel. I was grateful that Cristina agreed to let me stay at her house for the rest of my stay there.

The project was a 67-room, 3-restaurant hotel, and the housing development that surrounded it. I was hired as assistant to the hotel project manager; my job consisted of on-site management, meetings with the contractors and the operators, office work (spreadsheets, organizing punch lists, and reviewing contractor’s project proposals,) and various other errands. Although a construction site in Mexico was not what I envisioned for my gap year, the experience turned out to be incredibly satisfying and instructive. I was working in a fast paced, high-pressure environment, with high expectations, and was able to adapt quickly and be successful. Not only was I able to learn a tremendous amount, I was able to single out strengths of mine and use them to succeed at a high level, outside the familiar environment of school and without my normal support system.

The town of San Miguel itself became, as it does for so many people, a place filled with incredibly interesting, loving people, who took me in like family. It was a great place to begin my journey, to learn from the fascinating people there, and to learn about myself. I eventually turned down an offer to stay through the end of January, when the hotel was set to open (after receiving great coverage from Travel and Leisure), to return home for Christmas and carry out my planned Africa itinerary.

My time in Liberia is very hard to abridge in a few paragraphs, and I don’t think I will be able to fully grasp the whole journey within my mind for quite some time. The experience offered me the chance to wholly immerse myself in an incredibly complex and unfamiliar culture. I stayed with a family introduced to me by two of my high school teachers who had stayed in Liberia for a summer. My host was the District Superintendent of the Monrovia Methodist Church and I learned extensively about his beliefs, issues in this region, and the leadership programs he conducts. I also spent some time with the Carter Center; giving me an opportunity to see the vast impact NGO’s have on this country. This experience ranged from sitting in on a pilot meeting for implementing freedom of speech at the highest levels of government, to a meeting at the Ministry of Health about developments in mental health.

The best job experience was my work with the community development branch of the Methodist Church. The program, CODEVPRO, builds water wells and public schools in rural areas throughout the country. It is funded by foreign donors but completely run by Liberians. I not only had an invaluable opportunity to see their work, the communities involved, and the potential of the projects, but this involvement also ignited my own interest in community organizing and development. I have always been interested in politics, but my focus on this more tangible work with local communities really emerged from the Liberian experience. I now have a personal desire to do that work in the United States.

The most important experience of my Liberia trip was undoubtedly my daily life with my host family. I lived in a neighborhood called New Georgia, in a house with nine people and three bedrooms. The house was always filled with people and it was these people who took me in as their “white son,” and taught me everything I know about Liberia. I learned extensively about the country, their culture, and their history. I grew extremely close with the family and not only learned much from them, I was able to be a mentor for some people in the community. I became a part of the neighborhood and therefore a member of the basketball courts, churches, and families of the community. Everybody was immensely pleased when they were able to meet my own family, as my parents and older brother visited me for over a week. Hosting my parents was an incredibly fulfilling experience because it was my first opportunity to share my Liberian life with somebody similar to myself in background. The adventures and discussions with my family will forever be one of the greatest memories of my journey and has helped me through my return to Santa Rosa.

It is hard to believe that after more than three months my time in Liberia is over. As I adjust to life back home I hope to continue the path of my year so far. I’ve concluded that I’d like my summer to include one more opportunity that would be fulfilling and would round out the experiences of this past year. Ideally this third situation would be in the U.S., probably in a city, and would last 6-8 weeks during June and July, before I head off to Claremont in August. This year has been fabulous, and I am optimistic about finding a next step. I am so grateful to friends and family for the practical and personal support. This year has been one of the best of my life. Deferring admission was a wonderful choice, and with luck and loving friends, turned into an extraordinary growth experience. I look forward to starting school in September and possibly seeing some of you this summer!

I am open to all suggestions and look forward to hearing from you. With great appreciation…

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