In summary, I kicked off the summer by returning to my roots in Southern California with 2 incredible weeks at home. I was surrounded by the warmth and love of the constantly beautiful weather, but more importantly my family and friends. This home base was precisely what I needed before jumping on my first international solo flight to Europe. In a slur of YOLO moments last spring semester, my two sorority sisters and I planned a 2 week, fun-intensive Eurotrip to explore Paris, Venice, Florence, Rome, and Barcelona and visit Harvard Summer School Programs along the way. After experiencing my Advanced Placement European History (a class I took sophomore year of high school) textbook in person, I boarded my plane to Lima, Peru where I participated in an 8 week program by the David Rockefeller Center of Latin American Studies Summer Internship Program (DRCLAS SIP). Living with a family homestay, interning at a private clinic, and learning Spanish off the streets was the best way to prepare me to travel South America on my own. My next main destination was Bolivia, but I took a week to travel through Peru on my own to slowly and inexpensively make my way to Bolivia where I would meet with several other Harvard peers.
During my freshman fall semester, I quickly realized that the world is enormous, but I wanted to be involved with all of it. It’s difficult to think of global issues and international ideas during high school when it seems like your life will either make it or break it by college decisions. However, the undergraduates at Harvard are very globally-minded and I happily absorbed this perspective which catalyzed me to pursue a secondary in Global Health and Health Policy. If I were to accredit this pursuit to one source, it would be Refresh Bolivia.
Refresh Bolivia (RB) is a student group on campus, initiated one year before my enrollment at the college. My absolute favorite aspect of RB is that we put actions behind our words and research. Implementing plans is likely to be the most difficult step in every procedure, but the members of RB are determined and flexible enough to find a way. Essentially, we research Bolivian communities and clean water projects during the year and execute them during the summer. I wasn’t able to travel to Bolivia last summer so I definitely wanted to join the team this summer!
The RB team stayed with a family in Cochabamba that mainly hosts volunteers. We had three simultaneous projects this summer, two of them being more labor intensive. RB built relations with an organization along the lines of a school district called UAINAS where we funded educational books directed towards personal hygiene like washing your hands regularly. In the future, RB is looking forward to giving presentations on sanitation routines to the children! In addition to this project, RB set ambitious goals of building water tanks in two different communities – Maria Auxiliadora and Alto Miraflores. These two communities are located about an hour outside of the city, are lucky to have electricity, and have water trucks that come by (hopefully) daily in order for the people to obtain safe drinking/cooking water. One of the water tanks would be above ground and the other would be below ground.
Living abroad – even if it’s just for a few weeks – allows you to wrap your mind around so many different perspectives that I honestly don’t think anyone could genuinely understand unless they experience it first hand. I had a few nights when I didn’t have electricity in Peru and didn’t mind it too much. On the other hand, the water shortage in Bolivia is a whole different story. Water tanks are very common in Bolivia which means that people have a limited amount of water to use at any given time. There were a few days when the water tank ran empty at our homestay which meant that people couldn’t shower, we couldn’t wash our dishes nor brush our teeth or have a cup of tea! This made our mission in Bolivia much more real and meaningful and personally, I appreciate so much more every time I turn on any faucet or even flush!
We were unable to finish the water tank below ground because as we were digging a hole in the dirt, the dirt quickly turned into rocks. This project, however, is part of a larger, on going project and will be eventually completed. RB can’t wait to see the progress next summer and continue our work in the community!
One of the main obstacles for RB is to build relations with the communities we work in. Since they are normally at least semi-isolated, the community members can be very mistrusting and skeptical of people who do not live there. Yet these obstacles made the work even more rewarding than they would be on their own, regardless of how cliche and corny that sounds!
My Spanish abilities skyrocketed in Peru and surprisingly continued to progress in Bolivia. I couldn’t believe I was attending successful business meetings conducted entirely in Spanish and I’m pretty sure the community members had a hard time believing this too! I can’t think of many moments where I’ve been prouder of myself. The whole process of building relationships with the community leaders from the ground up was phenomenal, especially because I definitely could not have accomplished this during any other time in my life. Harvard has equipped me both academically and financially through my Spanish and Global Health classes as well as the generous David Rockefeller International Experience grant to make a difference in Bolivia and hopefully more locations in the future. *knocks on wood
I had two goals this summer: 1) Stay alive and 2) Improve my Spanish. I confidently put a fat check mark next to them both. Do I feel accomplished? Yes – but mostly because I accomplished a goal that I didn’t know I had. I am completely refreshed and ready for school!!
I have a theory that all good things in life are bittersweet – one of them being the end of a summer break. It’s a given that I’m always excited to regularly see my friends, but the thought of school, exams, and the like are usually a damper. I haven’t been this excited for the academic rigors of school…in a while. I’m literally thinking of reading from a coursepack and taking notes on crisp printer paper and giggling from over-excitement! Disclaimer: I’ll probably take this wholeheartedly back during midterm season which runs from the third/fourth week of the semester until Reading Period.
But for now, my peppiness about school has radiated my new dorm room! Tuesday was the first day of class and the first week of every semester is termed “Shopping Week” because students get to try out any class before officially committing to it on paper. As a junior, I’m pretty much done with large concentration/premed requirements so I have a grand selection of upper level Neurobiology classes to take. This means I’m shopping about 15 classes and more than half of them happen at the same time. I’m going to have a better idea of what my schedule looks like hopefully by the end of this weekend so I’ll blog about my Shopping Week experiences soon!