SDXCO Massachusetts 

Yoselin Flores 

No Comfort Zone  

Upon arriving at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) in North Adams I was led by a teacher assistant, Kofi King, up a hill with many other students trailing behind. We were all tired from the long bus ride, but I was excited to meet new people. I already felt happy that I had talked to students during the bus ride from NYC. I had told him excitedly, “I want to live on a farm when I go off to college. You know, maybe I would see horses every day, maybe even ride one wherever I am!”  

Yet during my first night on campus, me and my roommate, Hailey, both found ourselves laughing most of the night. We both couldn’t sleep, because it was too quiet.  That night and in the first week I realized that hay and a barn near me wouldn’t help me sleep either. That first night my roommate and me didn’t realize how important it was to sleep, because every single day for the SDXCO month was active.  Professors and SDC staff pushed students to get out of their dorm and partake in all the different activities. One of my favorite activities was volleyball, because I met many athletes such as, Kennedy from California. Kennedy’s patience led me through my embarrassment of not being able to serve a volleyball. And she helped me break out of my comfort zone.  At first, I would be too shy to scream when I made a point – which later changed. Along with finding out about volleyball, I faced one of my biggest fears which was swimming. During the first week we were all taken on a hike to the lake, but I was too scared to swim in the lake. Starting in the second week, along with other SDXCO students, took swimming lessons at N. Adams YMCA. My swimming teacher, Brandon, helped me build confidence, feel less scared to pencil dive, and swim from the shallow to the deep end. All throughout my body I felt adrenaline rushing, I liked learning new ways to be faster and stronger swimming. I practiced the breathing techniques in order to not be out of breath after swimming a lap. It was great to learn to swim. 

I wasn’t only active physically at SDXCO, but also mentally during my course on Sports and Civil Rights. I came in thinking I knew about civil rights from high school history, but I left class every day with something new and many things to think about. I learned about the Springboks, a top all-white South African rugby team, and their impact on the world when they were rejected to play in different countries during apartheid years. Sports did in fact impact society, and it was also a glimpse of hope to many African Americans and other minorities during their fight for their rights. Our professor encouraged us all to discuss as a group of ten, but what I loved most was that we had creative small group projects. Me and my classmates would meet up outside of class to discuss so everyone’s voice could be heard during our project recording a group podcast.  

On our final day in Massachusetts, we were unable to stop taking pictures and giving out hugs. At the beginning of July, we weren’t all too excited to live in a small town in the Massachusetts mountains, but in the end, we all made so many friendships, learned so much and experienced college life for the first time. 


Estefani Cruz

The plane took off and I cried tears of joy. I left the small world of Pacific Avenue and broke through the boundary of impossibility. The opportunity to visit Spain with a scholarship to study Picasso and Flamenco was something my family never imagined. For my parents, immigrants from a poor region in Mexico without a high school education, sending me abroad was out of the question. Luckily for them, I dream big.

My tears represented all that I had achieved in the last two months. As the plane soared into the air, I thought back to that fateful night.

The lump in my throat was incessant but I mustered the courage to ask for my parent’s permission to go on this month-long program with nine other students and travel on my own. They denied my pleas. “​Tienes que estar contenta con lo que te podemos dar ma​” was all my dad had to say to break my heart. His message was loud and clear- a little Oaxacan girl did not have enough money to experience something outside of her small world. I could see in my parents’ eyes that it broke them to deny me something because they could not afford it. Just the way their own parents in Mexico felt when they were young, unable to afford a new dress or something to eat.

This rejection, however, propelled me into action. The very next day, I went to my counselor who had nominated me for the program to brainstorm how to make my dream happen. Through perseverance and open communication, I finally convinced my parents to let me go. That night, in our small apartment, we formed a team to work together to fundraise the remaining cost of the program.

I started right away by I negotiated a free booth at my local farmers market and worked around the clock with the help of my mom to cook tamales and sell them on Sunday mornings. I started up my GoFundMe page to put my struggles and dreams out there and gain support. In the midst of this, I also baked brownies from scratch every night to sell them at school. My chocolate and cherry brownies became my life for months.

With the money in my hand, I ran to my counselor; I was to study art and dance in Spain and I had done it with all of my coordination and hard work. This perseverance allowed me to live the unimaginable, and empowered me in a way I had never felt before.

It is difficult to explain in detail all the streets, people, art pieces and churches I saw over the four weeks of the program. The riches of royal palaces put into perspective my life growing up. While many were handed luxury, my mother worked day and night hand making tortillas to buy us something to eat. I am no longer ashamed to be a low-income student, I am forever grateful.

However, what struck me the most were the similarities between Spain and my village in Mexico. Exploring Spain and its history allowed me to come to terms with the fact that colonialism has deeply affected my people and culture, both positively and negatively. I connected with my friend and group mate, Sokhnadiarra, whose parents are from Senegal and so she too is directly impacted by European colonialism.

However, I was surprised when she said that even through colonialism and American assimilation, I am excited to learn about my culture and native land that is miles away. I spoke about my family and culture with pride, teaching others about my food, clothing, music, dance, and language instead of only focusing on the poverty.

It stunned me then that being Oaxacan has shaped my identity. I am proud to share my heritage with others. I am not one hundred percent one thing; I have Spanish blood and influence as an indigenous Zapotec. It’s the reason I speak both Spanish and Zapoteco at home. Without the blend of these two different cultures, my family and my ​pueblo ​would not exist in the unique way they do now.

I went to Spain to explore my passion for art. More than this, I reflected on my identity and grow my perspective of the world. All the adventures that lead up to the final day of the trip hit me with an epiphany: I don’t want to stay in one place, I want to explore and experience everything I can about every culture, because every time I do, it brings me closer to my own. Even more, I have unlocked the confidence that lived dormant inside me for so long. I am no longer afraid to reach beyond the possible and push myself forward, regardless of the setbacks I encounter. The more boundaries I climb over, the more paths unlock for me to seize and run.


Zia Foxhall

The World from Above (spoken word)

There was something about seeing the city sprawl out below me that made me feel small
It was a collection of homes and lives, twisting and melding into a jumble of colors that rested
Seemingly peacefully below an ever-blue sky
It is easy to stay above the roofs, to watch the world from below
It is easy to look on from a distance, to keep it all at a distance
But as I stood above my little city, I found it more and more difficult not to fall
Not to dive down streets and into homes
Not to fall in love
And I found a warmth I never knew under a roof that was never mine
Arms I had never held opened wide just for me to enter
When I walked through the door the corners of your mouth tilted to the sky
But how could this be when you do not know me?
And so I sat in the garden and watched the world pass by from below
And you mended the weeds beside me, never asking me once to move
And you brought me my meal and told me to eat more than I could
And when I asked how to repay you, you smiled sending a yellow glow from your face
You told me that I was enough, my presence, my company
But how could this be?
And I remembered what it was like to watch the city sprawl below me from above
How the people looked so small
Their voices inaudible
I had not known them and they had not known me
I stood on a hill – watching from afar
The only thing I could do was imagine
But with an outstretched hand you showed me what it meant to be human
To be part of a family that had no bloodline
We became we when I walked through your door and I let you teach me
I am humbled and I am grateful
Although the world is beautiful from afar,
The real wonder is found when you enter it.


Madeleine Gutierrez

The Fulfillment of Dreams: Sushi, Monks, and Hearts

Even though I returned from Japan a month ago, the word すみません (Sumimasen) still seems to escape my mouth as I bump into people in the crowded streets of Downtown Los Angeles. This powerful word does not, however, split the Red Sea of Angelinos inhabiting my home town, or remove from me the guilt caused by bumping into these folks. Instead the word すみません only seems to envoke quizzical looks from strangers and occasionally some curse words. I know I am not in Japan when I have to remove the adhered gum from under my shoe, while I notice the hundreds of coca-cola bottles lining the sidewalk. Being in Japan means searching for precisely 130 yen jingling about in my trusty coin pouch, which are soon sucked up by the vending machine that spits out an ice cold milk tea. Japan means resisting the urge to leave the ice cold milk tea’s bottle on the pavement, for, despite searching like a madman, the trash can is non-existent.

Although Japan and I have said our farewells, we exist within each other. Japan’s culture has not yet left me. I still find myself placing the palms of my hands together and saying “いた だきます” before I eat. Since the days of my youth, Japan gravitated towards me, or perhaps I gravitated toward it. Regardless, my favorite restaurant was Japanese and Studio Ghibli films were my Peppa Pig. I once thought my love for Japan to be additive; it was, however, multiplicative: every kaiju, roll, and anime doubled my love for this country of the rising sun. When the time came to choose a language in highschool, I instantly knew there was but one choice: Japanese. Japanese’s difficulty, then, was unknown to me: I began to doubt my decision, calling my father and convincing him that this was not merely “Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto”. Who knew that the Japanese had three different alphabets (maybe four if you include romaji!). Eventually, with the support of my Sensei and a dear friend, Yui, my doubtful love for the language settled. My lifetime dream was impeded, however, by my family’s lack of affluence. I understood that we could barely pay the bills, but, in my heart, my dream lived on, knowing that I would have to wait for college to study abroad. By the greatest of fortunes, I was nominated to
apply to Student Diplomacy Corps; the rest is, well, history. Although, most histories do not end in such delicious sushi.

The road to becoming a master sushi chef is not a clear or easy one; therefore, I was very fortunate, this time, to have been pushed through this system with direction and clarity. While most sushi chefs wait years before beginning to prepare and cut fish for sushi, I became a mini sushi master in 1/100 of the time, slicing sashimi and rolling maki. In the most humble way possible, Gordon Ramsey has nothing on me and the rest of our group, which was comprised of the most fascinating people I have ever met.

It is impossible for this notation to convey the amounts of fun and knowledge gained through this active emotional experience in Japan. Whenever I listen to the Japanese Band One Ok Rock, I am reminded of my loving host family who treated me as if I were their own daughter. I begin to laugh at how, despite my lack of navigation skills, I was able to lead the group through the busy train stations, roads, and corridors of the crowded Tokyo and Kyoto streets. My back still straightens whenever I gaze upon long poles, as memories of a monk whacking us during Zen meditation begin to resurface. My eyes begin to swell up with tears as I remember Japan in all its glory: one heart for the country and myself.


Ashley Ip

When most people think about Italy, they think about pasta and the Colosseum. However, I think about Monestevole Tribewanted. Last summer, I experienced living at Monestevole Tribewanted – a sustainable community with people who were influencing change. They implemented permaculture on their farms, grew all the food they ate, recycled water in a gray-black water living system and didn’t use a single ounce of plastic. My four days there were filled with activities like building a mud wall, feeding the animals, harvesting the vegetables, preparing pasta, and even hiking down to the lake. But it wasn’t what we did that impacted me profoundly, it was my conversations with the people that sparked a light in me. They showed me that there were options in how we chose to live and that I could do something to help. 

Two weeks after I got back from Italy, I started to work in retail at the US Open. It was there that I saw first-hand why the Earth is in such bad shape. The amount of plastic I picked up on a daily basis was insane. Every single item we sold was wrapped in plastic. Reusable water bottles weren’t allowed, so people had to buy plastic water bottles. Did you know it takes a plastic bottle 450 years to decompose? I got to thinking, and I wondered if we could use recycled bottles to create reusable plastic bags and charge extra for plastic bottles. 

I was further inspired to intern at an organic farm. Urban farming is more important than ever, but many people go their whole lifetime in New York City without ever seeing an actual farm. Every Saturday, I get the opportunity to work with kids and teach them the importance of sustainability, growing their own food and keeping plastic use to a minimum.  It’s the small victories that make this so special. It’s the glowing smile on the kids’ faces after a long day as they run to their parents and passionately tell them what they learned; it’s seeing kids harvest their first vegetables and cook for the first time. Their constant drive to learn makes me excited to wake up on Saturday. 

I believe that it is my duty to pass on what I learned at Monestevole Tribewanted. It was there I learned the 10,000 monkey theorem – that if 1% of the population starts following a certain trend, everyone else will follow suit. I want to be the 1% that starts to make change. Back at Monestevole Tribewanted, Filippo, the owner and founder, explained to us that he wasn’t doing this for the planet, he was doing it for humanity. We’re consuming more from nature than our planet can sustain, and it’s starting to show. Just look at the number of natural disasters in the past year. Climate change doesn’t seem to be stopping and it’s going to affect everyone. I see it as my responsibility to pass on the lessons I’ve learned – I can’t sit back and watch this happen. 


Mariah McDaniel

When I was a little girl, one of my favorite cartoon films was Thumbelina (1994). I fell in love with the singing of Jacquimo, the quirky French bird. I also was intrigued with his description of Paris. His first line still rings a bell in my mind, “Welcome to Paris, City of Love.” I wished with all my being to travel to Paris and see this phenomenon myself. Another verse imprinted itself into my brain as well. It is a lyric from the song, “Follow Your Heart”: “You’re sure to do impossible things, when you follow your heart.” These sayings resonated with me as I walked the streets of Paris, after my last day at my internship, confidently strutting along without using my Plan de Paris. 

Prior to that I spent endless days running along the city, lost and puzzled, trying to read the map. I felt invigorated and on top of the world, or shall I say, the Eiffel Tower, when I finally bested that perplexing map. However, the journey it took to finally become confident enough to utilize my own abilities required me to struggle through a bigger obstacle, the dreaded language barrier. 

I felt its effects within the first 24 hours of being in Paris. It seemed to me that every person in my group had developed strong French in school. They could waltz up to a friendly francophone and ask anything they desired, but I struggled to comprehend simple phrases. One fated night my group and I were having dinner at the best crêpe restaurant in the world, La Crêpe Dentelle. Breeze and Negina, our group leaders, challenged everyone to speak French for 20 minutes until our food arrived. I was mortified. It was as if I was the foreigner at the table. I grew more and more exasperated each second. Luckily, Negina saved me the embarrassment and took me outside before I cried an ocean. It took her a while to calm me down, but she assured me that I have to try speaking and trust in myself. The feat almost seemed impossible to hurdle, but miraculously, I felt a new change brewing within. After leaving La Crêpe Dentelle, I looked back upon the small, intricate restaurant and thought, “I am going to return and redeem myself.” With that declaration, I ran into my host family experience, head strong with muscles flexed.

Amusingly, my host family knew less English than I knew French. However, I stuck with my guns and successfully butchered many conversations with my semi-horrific French. Sometimes, my family understood me. Other times we had awkward moments of silence mixed with confusion and burst into laughter soon after. By the end of my stay, I can truly say I held true to my word. I was prepared to travel back to Paris and try to leave my native tongue during my internship. Coincidentally, my internship happened to be at La Crêpe Dentelle. It felt as if the universe heard my declaration and wanted to lead me to success.


During the three days at my internship, I connected with the restaurant owner and their granddaughter on a deep level. The granddaughter specifically was my biggest supporter. She forced me to share my life story with every single customer in French. Even though I messed up a lot, she still encouraged me everyday and became my personal cheerleader. By the end of my internship, I felt more at ease with the language. I didn’t care that I wasn’t fluent. I was proud that I survived that experience and established a sense of confidence in myself. I felt so exhilarated and motivated to tackle more challenges, that I decided to walk home that day without depending on my Plan de Paris. 


Thinking back to the classic movie that started it all, I now see that Jacquimo was correct. I could do anything that I deemed impossible if I followed my heart. The language barrier seemed unfeasible, but I followed my gut and never gave up. Now I feel that I can do anything I put my mind to, all thanks to my travels with Student Diplomacy Corps. 



Emily Duran Garcia

Eulogy of the Past

In memoriam of Emily Duran Garcia. She was fragile and closed off. She confined herself to the comfort of home for fear of getting lost. She was frightened by the world outside and trapped within her books. She believed that she was meant to carry the weight of her parent’s sacrifices to save herself and her family by working hard for university. To her, spending time with friends was a distraction. She believed that making close connections were useless in her pursuit for success. She believed that she was happy, but she was merely a machine whose gears were slowly but surely rusting.

Then something happened — China happened. Timidly, she left her home, met a group of strangers and flew to the other side of the world. Her once dull eyes brightened. She began to take notice of the strange world around her and her place in it. She learned patience while talking with her host sister who struggled to communicate. She learned vulnerability while talking with her companions in a hotel room late into the night. She learned joy when the cold drink had reached her mouth after she spent hours under the scorching sun on the Great Wall. She learned adoration by seeing the plants and colorful bugs while hiking the imposing mountains of Zhonglu village. She learned focus while meditating in the comforting darkness of a cave. But most importantly, she learned how to live. From conversing with natives in her broken Chinese to laughing with her friends while using squat toilets that had no stalls, she smiled through it all.

And with that the machine broke to reveal the human underneath.

The old Emily died but it was for the best. Following her death came the new Emily. An Emily that cherishes her friends and whose eyes are burning with energy. An Emily whose spirit yearns to explore the neighborhoods she’s neglected for so long. This new Emily isn’t afraid to get lost anymore, for the best adventures occur off the beaten path. After all, what is life without adventure?


Tamea Levingston

How Has SDC Chile Prepared me for College?

In the beginning of my journey, I didn’t know what I was in for. Yes, I knew that I was studying abroad, but I didn’t know exactly how it would impact my life. My head was filled with questions and my body was engulfed with a mix of emotions and feelings. The main questions that floated through my head were, “How well will I get along with my group members? Will they accept me for me? Are they just as nervous as I am?”. Slowly, these emotions and questions faded along the way, when I realized that I’m more confident than I thought I was. While exploring the cities of Chile and the historic land of Easter Island, I was presented with challenges I never would have thought I’d have to face. There were several times when doubt and fear overpowered by mind, but I quickly gained confidence with the help of my supportive group members. Every mountain I hiked, and every stone I stumbled upon made me realize that I can accomplish anything I put my mind to, to never give up, and always have faith. The challenges that I faced while studying abroad helped shape me for college in a social, mental, and physical aspect.

Entering college as a first-year student is equivalent to living in a country that you’re not familiar with. It comes with adjustments, meeting new people, as well as finding where you belong in a new chapter of your life. I was surrounded by a new culture of people for a month. This gave me a chance to understand how people live, political views, how others are raised, and even sparked the parts of my brain that function least often–trying to comprehend and speak Spanish. This was especially difficult given that Chileans use heavy slang. This study encouraged me to get to know people when I venture off to college and make new friends of different ethnic backgrounds.

Living in a different country for a month is eye opening and allows room for growth, so now I know that I can study any place I put my mind to without having the fear of being away from home. Before my journey in Chile, I didn’t see myself as being an active college student, but this experience has developed my feelings towards participating in student organizations. I picture myself studying cultures around the world, hiking mountains with new friends, as well as creating and organizing clubs and programs for students who feel like they’re out of place on campus.

This year as a senior, I’ve been elected to be one of the representatives for my class. I’ve always had visions of being a part of my school’s student council, but I never had the courage to step outside of my comfort zone. My experience in Chile and being selected by Student Diplomacy Corps, has helped me blossom into a young adult, it has also prepared me for entering college as a first-year student. My confidence is higher than it’s ever been before, I’m able to use my voice with confidence, I’m not afraid to meet new people, and I’ve become open minded to adjusting to a new lifestyle.


I will be forever grateful of this journey I was able to take through SDC. I hope the project choice offers a charming insight on my time in Canada.

My intention was to write multiple pieces that would make readers feel. Whether it is relating to my fear in the beginning, feeling sad with me in the end, or laughing to the stories I have to tell. Everything past this introduction is meant to be ironic. The stories are true, but the perspective or attitude that I wrote it in might not express how I actually felt. I love everyone in my group and all of the memories we made together. If something I wrote seems like it was a situation I wish did not happen, this is not the case! It was a trip with no regrets. A trip for growth. Everything I have in my project was an amazing experience or one that I am glad I learned from.

I will always love to write, but have felt limited by the rules of essays, stories, research papers, etc. I did not want to reflect on this unforgettable part of my summer by turning it in to a project that I would not have fun making. By creating this mockmagazine I can include stories from my perspective, interesting facts, fake news articles, even an interview with myself! One issue I bumped into was that magazines are not created by or made to be about just one person. My solution: different aliases. A new name for each of my sides, including the writer, tourist, movie critic, celebrity, foodie, and so many more! This was meant to be funny, not egocentric.

In school it is expected that papers be reasonably formal. I decided that this was the chance to try something new. And I know because of that decision, my writing will be more authentic.



My gumboots were covered in mud, raindrops slid down the windows, bright green grass and sheep for miles. I was in a small van with nine other student diplomats on our way to Karetu, New Zealand. After miles of a muddy unpaved road, we came to a stop. I stepped out of the van in awe, the sky was covered in pink and purple cotton candy clouds. I saw a marae, a sacred meeting ground, only stepped on after being invited by the Māori people. As I walked forward with my Student Diplomacy Corps group we witnessed our first ever Māori welcoming ceremony, one of the many we would experience on our three week journey immersing ourselves into the culture of the indigenous people of Aotearoa.

We were given food, stretched among vertical tables. “This tastes like my mom’s cooking,” I whispered as I devoured the warm beef soup with potatoes. However, I could taste subtle differences. Both of my parents are from Oaxaca, Mexico, where Caldo de Rez is cooked with corn. They immigrated to the United States as teens, with nothing to their names. Coming from a low-income household, I never imagined being able to leave the country. Only months before my acceptance to the program, I was living in a hotel with my family because my parents were unable to pay rent for the apartment we lived in previously. Being homeless affected my grades, and impacted my life in all aspects.

When I received my acceptance email I hesitated; I did not know whether my living situation would change by the summer. I grew angry at the fact that I might have to let this opportunity slide, but after long conversations with my parents, they assured me everything would be okay. I had received a generous scholarship, with some money left to pay. I spent hours making tamales, posters, and flyers. My family helped me sell food at the farmer’s market and at school in attempt to raise the money needed, and we were successful.

Once in the marae my group gathered with Māori people to discuss the impact of colonialism. I immediately thought about the Treaty of Waitangi, which I had researched before leaving for New Zealand. I tried my best to remember dates and names, but as the discussion began I stopped. The conversation was about language and personal experiences. Emotions rather than facts. I sat and listened, and most importantly, I felt. As a first-generation Latina in the US, I related to how the Māori felt when they discussed the fear of speaking their own language and sense of losing culture.

The following week our group saw a kapa haka performance in Auckland. I felt a sense of pride as they yelled across the stage, stomping their feet, slapping their thighs, singing, and moving their hands, representing life through vibrations. After learning about the Māori’s rich culture and history, the kapa haka became a symbol of resistance. Despite years of discrimination, the Māori performers were able to preserve their culture, learn the dance from their ancestors, and now perform it for hundreds of people.

Back home in Los Angeles, what I am most passionate about is activism. I organize marches, form school clubs, and work with city councilmembers to find solutions to end homelessness. Being in Aotearoa with the Māori people helped me better understand issues in my own community. I understood how different cultures can come together and learn from each other’s strategies to end injustice. The kapa haka is proof that years of resistance and determination to preserve the Māori culture payed off. However, after spending three weeks in Aotearoa, it is evident that the fight for indigenous rights is not over. It is small things like the kapa haka that encourage me to continue in my own activism, striving for a better future for all.


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.