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So far, DukeEngage has been a confusing experience for me. It began with uncertainty about the safety of traveling to Chile, which caused the program to be suspended. In December, however, Chile was deemed safe enough and the application reopened. I applied and was soon accepted. Less than a month later, we were sent home from school as a result of the coronavirus and again it was unclear if I would be headed to Chile for the summer. Quickly, it became obvious that I wouldn’t be traveling, but I was still uncertain about whether or not the program would run at all. The news arrived that the program would still happen, just in a different format.

At this point, I was excited to hear that I would still be able to have a productive and impactful summer, but I was still uncertain. Would I be working daily with a team? Would the work be similar to what it would have been? Would I get to practice my Spanish? Many of these questions remained unanswered. Until this week, that is.

At our first meeting as a full team, my program leader described the work we would be doing: translating documents, developing curriculum, researching biological reserves. For the first time, everything started coming together. I could picture what my summer with DukeEngage, however unique an experience it may be, will look like. And I got excited.

This week, we’re focusing primarily on learning. As we can’t be in Neltume to explore the area, visit the Huilo Huilo Biological Reserve, or get to know the locals or each other, it’s time to start understanding each of those pieces. We’ve started doing a lot of research on the reserve, as well as looking at other comparable reserves in other areas. As I look into all of these topics, I’ve begun to get excited about this project. In the same way that the first few days would have been spent in Neltume, I’m getting to know the area and starting to understand some parts of the culture.

Finally, the uncertainty has come to a halt and opened a door for anticipation and new learning. My questions are being answered. I may not be working daily with a team, though much of the work will be comparable to that which we would’ve done on the ground in Neltume. And yes, I will definitely get to practice my Spanish. While there’s still more to figure out about this summer, I can’t wait to continue to get to know Neltume.