“Do you understand?” is a question that marked the first few weeks of my DukeEngage Experience more than any other. “Do you understand my Spanish?” “Do you understand your job?” “Do you understand the plan for this weekend?” “¿Entiendes?”
I would love to say that all these questions were met with an enthusiastic “¡Claro!” as I dove head first into whatever new challenge or adventure lay in front of me. And some of them were. I have taken trips across the country on the weekends to stay with friends’ families, hike through cow pastures, attend 1-year birthday parties, and really get to know this beautiful country not only for its incredible ecodiversity and scenery, but also the warm-hearted and friendly people who have welcomed me into their homes with as much rice and coffee as I could ever dream of. I have branched out in terms of the scope of my service as well. Originally I was planning on focusing solely
on connecting Special Olympic athletes to follow up care, however because of the needs of my community partner I have had to reach outside of that original vision. My primary two projects have been 1) creating and analyzing a database of medical exams in different locations and locating potential follow up care providers in those locations and 2) planning a healthy communities event for a local elementary school of children with intellectual disabilities which includes translating multiple materials I have created for use with SO in the United States and planning a Zumba class to lead for 60 children.
However, while amazing memories and experiences have truly marked my DukeEngage experience, there have been many moments where I met “¿Entiendes?” with a completely blank stare as I rattled through my brain trying to make sense of the string of words just thrown at me. Sitting across from my host mom at dinner, trying to buy groceries in a store, directing my cab driver where to drop me off. Living and working in a different country with a language and culture that is unfamiliar to you is
really hard, harder than I thought it would be. Finding the balance between immersing yourself and trying to soak up every second and spending some time alone, taking care of your mental health needs and reaching out to friends and family back home is a hard line to walk. However it is a balance I am determined to maintain because the one thing that I do understand completely is that this experience is shaping me and helping me grow and will continue to do so if I let it.