Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Importance of Connections

      I first got introduced to Citizen Schools as a 6th grader at the McCormack Middle School. Just like many students I was forced to enter by my parent who didn't want me to be home doing nothing after school. At first, I did not like it, but that was because I did not give it a chance. Once I started to make friends at the program, I did not mind being there. I continued the afterschool program until my 8th-grade year. By then I no longer had to be forced to attend. I loved everything about the program my friends and the team leaders. My classmates and the team leader had become like a family to me. Citizen Schools had opened my eyes to many opportunities there are for students.

      Before Citizen Schools, I had not known about the other types of high schools that were in Boston besides public, and they had helped me apply to all the schools my mom, and I liked. As part of 8th-grade academy; I got to go on college trips, and I had a personal writing coach. College was something I had never thought much about or thought possible. But, going on the trips and talking to students had allowed me to see how realistic it can be if I continued to work hard in school.

      As I expressed before, I loved Citizen Schools. So, once I finished the program in middle schools, I still was involved during high school. In my 9th grade year, I stayed involved through a leadership group and learned how to become a Deputy Team Leader. For the next three years, I was a DTL, and that had to be one of the best experiences of my life. It was meeting 8th graders and seeing them find their interest and ask questions on the college trips, and it was helping the quieter student come out of their shell by the end of the trips, it was moments like these and others, that made being a DTL and Citizen Schools so great.
At Hamilton College overnight trip with 8GA students and fellow DTLs

     Also, my senior year of high school, I need to have an internship and guess where I did it? Yup, Citizen Schools. I worked as with alumni engagement and oversaw the social media pages and anything else that was needed of me. Doing this internship helped me see the behind the scenes of the organization and how much work it takes to make the organization run. I have so much respect and love for the people at Citizen Schools for all their work at Headquarters and at the middle schools. I always feel honored and proud to have been part of Citizen Schools, and I guess they must feel the same with me. In 2015, it was the 20th Anniversary of the organization, and at the gala that year I was one of the 20 people honored with an extraordinary citizen award, and I also gave the alumni speech. It was an unforgettable evening. 
Giving my speech at the Gala

      Now, I am not writing about my love for Citizen Schools for you to go and join the organization or add a middle school family member to the program. That would be amazing; there is always space for more people in the organization. But, I am writing about it to inform people how important afterschool programs or extracurricular activities are for young people. For me, this organization is just more than an afterschool program but a place where it feels like home. I know when I walk through the doors of the Boston Headquarters I will be welcomed with smiles and hugs.

      I knew if I ever needed something there is always someone willing to help. That is why as part of being awarded the Gilman Scholarship to help me afford to go abroad I had to do a project I asked my friends at Citizen Schools if I can do a project with them. My blog is a part of the project; its things that I experience and learn while being abroad and I hope that those who do end up reading this learn something new or find it as inspiration. I hope it reaches younger alumni or current students in Citizen Schools and they see that someone who was once in their shoes is in college and is studying abroad and it is possible for them too.

     Lastly, I want to show just how amazing the people at Citizen Schools are. Megan Bird is the executive director of the Massachusetts branch of Citizen Schools, and she was in Chile on vacation with her family. And she welcomed me to lunch and a walk around Valparaiso with her family. The staff at Citizen Schools want people to stay connected with them even after they graduate the program and I am so lucky to be part of the Citizen School family !
At Lunch with Megan and her Family

On our walk through Valparaiso, Chile

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Why I Chose Chile

           From the time, I learned about studying abroad until the end of my sophomore year at Stonehill College, I wanted to go to London for the semester. However, this past summer I began to second guess my choice in location because my growing interest in Latin America and its history.

Coming from a Puerto Rican household, my first language is Spanish. Growing up with a single mother, my grandmother was the one to watch me when my mom was at work, and she had no formal education in English, so she spoke to me in Spanish. As I got older, I started to answer her less in Spanish and more in English.  I became more self-conscious about my English as I went to school, and I wanted very little to do with my Puerto Rican identity. I embraced certain cultural aspects like food and dance and even music; however I did not want to speak the language as much.
           By the time I was in middle school I only spoke it when it was a necessary to speak with family members. When it came to high school it was required for me to take three years of Spanish. And there was when I started to be able to read and write in Spanish. I started to embrace my Hispanic identity with pride. I became more confident when reading and writing and I got to practice talking more. After three years of taking Spanish in high school I got more interested in learning Spanish then I had been in a long time. Fortunately, freshman year at Stonehill College I had to take a language requirement, I took Survey of Latin America I and II in Spanish; and this is where my main interest started.

I was able to learn about the history, culture, and literature of Latin America and it was like it opened a window for me. I wanted to learn more not only about Puerto Rican history but of Latin America as a whole. I felt a connection to it and it is something I want to explore more. From there I began to take more classes, for example Colonial and Modern Latin America. As an International Business major I did not know what type of career or job I want, but I would love for it to focus on Latin America countries. That is why I am also a Latin American studies minor and am to take classes in different departments that pertain to Latin America. Having a focus was in a way was my way to focus my degree and also be able to continue my learning in something that means a lot to me.
The second semester of my sophomore year I had the opportunity to go to Cuba as a part of course. This experience will always be something so important and eye opening to me. It was one of the first time, where I spoke mostly Spanish to people who were not my family. It was a place where I finally felt like me speaking Spanish was significant part of  me and allowed me to communicate with the locals. From the time being in Cuba I learned so much and realized that I am not as bad in Spanish than I have been thinking and that I was able to have full conversation with people and they understood what I was saying. It was a boost of confidence for me and I began to not be as nervous when I speak.
This past summer I am really grateful that I got a chosen to work with a political science professor on a Summer Undergrad Research Experience (SURE) project at Stonehill. I was able to expand my knowledge on Latin America by doing research on the Peace Negotiation between the FARC and the Colombian government. Towards the end of the summer I reflected on the places and events I had participated in and most of the had to do with Latin America in some way. Then I thought about how studying abroad in London will connect with those experiences and my growing interest in Latin America. A best friend of mine who also did SURE and went to Cuba with me, made me see how going to a Latin America might be what I needed to continue learning about the histories and cultures and gain the confidence I wanted in speaking Spanish.