Gisely Torres

I am about to tell you about the best summer of my life. And I want to start with my wholehearted thanks, because without you, this would have only been a dream.

This summer I learned how to swim in the Adriatic Sea. I rode a horse for the first time, I climbed to my first cave, I found a second home. This summer I learned who I am.

Albania. Honestly, I had to look up where this country was when I got the email notifying me of my acceptance to a SDC program. And looking back now, it seems like I couldn’t have gone my life without this astonishing country and all the experiences it provided.

From the beginning, I had realizations that will forever change me. On day 2, we had a night coffee talk with our tour guide’s cousin. She was telling us about this mysterious and beautiful country when we were so new to it, answering our every question. This amazing country is currently opening its borders, and with it they fear they may lose the culture they struggled so hard to keep. Their language and customs that they managed to protect from all the countries that occupied them during multiple wars in the past. This conversation led to realizations, that my country, the United States, has many mixed cultures, and sometimes that causes us to lose one for another.

I am Salvadorian. I am an American citizen. I am a Hispanic woman, one who speaks Spanish, one who loves bachata (a Mexican dance). I was born in Aspen, Colorado and grew up in the beautiful Roaring Fork Valley. And so I find those parts of me clashing sometimes. I find myself speaking English better than Spanish. I find myself surrounded by my American friends. I find myself losing the Latina in me. And I’ve realized that’s a part of me I should never, ever let disappear. No matter the wars, no matter how many different people surround me, I should never let go of the part of me that my parents gave me.

On the 4th of July, our team leader, Brian, asked us if we are proud to be American. And while part of me wanted to say no, that my people were being deported and caged and denied opportunity, another part of me felt patriotism. I was sitting in a restaurant, sipping peace iced tea, orange sunset in view, a personal 400 leke pizza sitting in front of me, listening to the opinions of my new family of 10 in a foreign country, and I realized that I absolutely love my country. When I spoke, passionately and full of emotion, I spoke of my thanks for all the opportunities my family and I have obtained because of this country. I spoke of the fact that I was in ALBANIA. In a country I would probably never heard of if I had been born where my parents were born. I probably would have never gotten an education, never explored my ambitions, never realized how amazing and plentiful life can really be. I was in the Balkans. I was in Europe. All because of my adoring country and the ambitions it allowed me to discover. My heart knew then, I am what the Albanians call me: “Amerikan”, and I am Salvadorian. And I truly cherish both parts of my identity.
I want to say I am so truly thankful. I learned so much about myself. I learned I can be a risk taker. I found someone to look up to in our team leader. I found friends for life. I found a place on the other side of the world that I can call home. I found myself.
So again, thank you so much for allowing me to explore this opportunity, for giving me the world. In return I hope to be able to do the same, now and in the future.

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