Ten years ago today I thought I was saying goodbye forever to Mario and Mexico. To date, I think that was still the saddest day of my life. But, to quote While You Were Sleeping, "life doesn't always turn out the way you plan." Thank goodness for that!
Like most people who have experienced the study abroad semester, I'll stand in line with the rest of them to say that it was hands down the best semester of my college career. Not grade wise, certainly. But I learned more in that one semester, about myself and the world in general, than is normally possible to experience in four months. (Finding my future husband was an additional perk.) While I'm waxing reminiscent, I'd like to send a huge thanks to anyone who joined me on that path during the spring of 1999, particularly Aubrie, Kelli, Liz, Nilaja, Smiljana, and especially Sally and Enrique. It's an experience that has changed my life.
Normal semesters abroad involve language classes and maybe a few nearby trips. Thanks to Sally and Enrique, our semester involved an extended, guided trip every other weekend. Often, we probably got more history thrown at us than we would have chosen on our own, but I was always grateful, as we left knowledgable about the places we visited. And oh, the places we went! Puebla, Mexico City, Oaxaca, Veracruz, Morelos, pyramids out the wazoo . . . I think we saw more of the country than the average Mexican ever sees, let alone the average study abroad student. It was well worth all the "pena" I endured, trying to make myself understood on a day-to-day basis. (While I was wrapped up learning about the world at large, learning Spanish was not one of my big priorities. Oops.)
If reading this you think, "man, I always wanted to study abroad, but never could." It's not too late! Language schools all over the world cater to adults (and families) for just a week at a time, up to months at a time. The average travel guide usually provides language school ads. Furthermore, full-time volunteer opportunities abound if you're willing to take a year-long leave of absence from work (ooo--find yourself unemployed during this financial crisis? What are you waiting for?). I recommend starting with the Catholic Network for Volunteer Service www.cnvs.org (not just for Catholics or even Christians . . . there are opportunities for your average agnostic or atheist, too. They're just a little harder to find here). Just click on the Response directory and have fun searching! And if you've always dreamed of working with orphans in Latin America, I recommend Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos www.nph.org. Two tough, but rewarding years of my life were spent in their Mexico house.
OK, I'll get down off my soapbox now. If you know me, you knew that volunteer speech was coming. Now it's over. Whew.