“El Final Del Principio” – El Salvador Day 15/15

My biggest takeaways from this trip are what I learned about myself and what I learned about this country. This last post will talk about these top five areas in great lengths and personal detail.


I learned about an extraordinary country with a powerful, historic background. What’s read in some textbooks, portrayed in the media, and understood based on stereotypes and assumptions are NOT an accurate representations of a country, let alone it’s individual citizens. The opportunity to hear El Salvador’s earliest history from its natural Mayan/Aztec relations to the modern Spanish colonization, personal testimonies about the Civil War that lasted for 12 years and the part the United States played in it, detailing the geographic issues such as mudslides, earthquakes, and volcanos, and conversations about the two political parties (FMLN & ARENA) has given me so much knowledge, and I am confident that studying abroad in El Salvador was the greatest way to convey this as opposed to from a class, a textbook, or the internet. Central America is filled with many other countries, and learning about the small country of El Salvador and its undeniable influence and presence globally was phenomenal. I will now look at the world differently, question injustices, support community-grounded businesses like I did in El Salvador, aim to be resilient like the citizens of this country, and moreso frame my lifestyle around friendships, cooperation, honesty, and soildarity.


I learned that Higher Education and Student Affairs is where I truly belong as a practitioner. It is often not easy to truly find what your internal drive is–the set of actions, activities, and external environment that gives you the upmost satisfaction and fulfillment. My years as an orientation leader, campus activities programmer, resident assistant, ΟΔΚ executive board member, teaching a studies skill class to freshman students and other work/volunteer experience in student affairs has given me a type and level of fulfillment I cannot quite put into words. Working with college students is such a privilege because these are the individuals readying themselves to enter society, the workforce, and possibly change the world, and if I can impact the learning, growth, career direction, and/or convey the value of education and knowledge, then that is my intentional contribution to the world I enjoy and can give. As a social worker and classmate of mine astutely said: “One person may not be able to change the world, but you can change the world of one person.” Regarding micro, macro, and mezzo changes (small, large, and medium changes respectively) my path of higher education has also granted me the knowledge, skills, and awareness of a researcher. My official title is Research Analyst in Teacher Education. And because many policies and laws dictate the operations in both higher education and social work realms, adequate evaluation and assessment of these policies and laws are needed to ensure the best interest to those affected by them are intended and implemented.


I learned about my personality, habits, interest, motivations, and how these traits affect different environments and settings. I’m a straight, cis male. I’m an extrovert. I’m an artist. I’m a gamer. I’m a researcher. I’m a risk taker. I have aspects of a geek and hipster. I work in Higher Education. I’m a trend setter. I value innovation. I’m inquisitive. I’m impulsive. I’m a writer. I’m a student affairs practitioner. I’m easily bewildered. I’m compassionate. I’m appropriately sensual. I’m a mentor. I’m a logician. I can be somewhat smug. I’m witty and comical. I’m determined. All of these aspects make up Mario Lee Adkins, and even though I have a twin brother, there is no one like MLA. At this point in my professional life, I am going to be working with many different people, making ethical decisions that could affect many, and directly influencing others in various ways. At this point, I want to fully know and embrace my true self and calculate how this meshes with others, what traits I may have to heighten and what traits I may have to tone down depending on the circumstances. I think of myself (my before-mentioned traits) as puzzle pieces where all the pieces are present and they all fit together, yet aren’t all pieced together yet. As I grow older, the pieces come together piece by piece, I learn which pieces fit together, my favorite pieces, pieces I’m not too fond of, yet are apart of me anyway, and reevaluating the meaning or worth of a piece. As a professional, I want to be able to present this competed puzzle of me and use this self-actualized persona to positively impact and help others. Though for now, I will used the pieces I know how to use best and continue to be open to learning and having new experiences. As Sister Peggy O’Neall said on this trip: “The best professional is someone who has a genuine self. Find yourself, and you’ll find your place.”


I learned about the story of an El Salvadorian child named Axel and the practice of solidarity. During my two-day service work placement, I worked with many kids and they were so much fun to interact and play with. Their innocence was what made the experience so memorable. When I leave this country, I wanted to have at least one genuine tie that kept me connected in a positive and ongoing way. Sponsoring a child’s scholarship through Programa Velasco was perfect. My natural, internal consensus of this decision was one I’ve never experienced before, and for once in my life I could help another person on a level I never thought possible. Axel (who is ironically named after a popular Kingdom Hearts video game character) is a short, energetic, shy, and slightly inquisitive little 2-year-old boy. His birthday is next month in June and from what I’ve heard he’s an excellent artist. I committed to paying about 75% of his preschool/head start tuition for the year. His family qualifies for it based on a financial assessment via the organization. In Axel I see so many puzzle pieces similar to mine, so much potential if given the chance. After I hugged his mother, she thanked me and was tearing up, as was I. I was able to hold him and I knew a good decision was made today and I could positively impact his life. Though just as important, I know he will positively impact and influence mine as well. I have a lot to learn from Axel. I see this not as an act of charity, but one of solidarity. We are two equals helping and learning from one another.


I learned that no matter what I will always have more to learn and it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. I have also learned I may have to relearn concepts and information I thought were straightforward but now my perspective is more broaden and heightened. During my flight back to the United States, I sat next to a nutritionalist named Cathy, and we had a long conversation about both our professions. We were both returning from other countries: me from El Salvador in Central America and her from Cayman Islands, which is overseas territory of the United Kingdom (check them both
at the bottom left and upper right respectively). After realizing I truly enjoyed my study abroad experience, Cathy gave me a Cayman Islands dollar, and I was in awe at the new form of currency and quickly gave her $1.25 back, which was the equivalent exchange rate. This nice gesture of hers also sparked something else in me; the notion that more places and knowledge exist and the drive to visit as many places that apply to the higher education and student affairs contributions I want to give to this world. We may live domestically, but the world operates globally. I want to become an individual who fully embraces this and live up to the greatest, constructive, and authentic potential possible to support my values and profession. This study abroad trip to El Salvador has positioned me along this path.



“La Playa” – El Salvador Day 14/15

The beaches in El Salvador are just amazing. This post will be mostly recreational in content, with my last reading similar to an essay. Enjoy the photos, and hopefully they give you context for this amazing last moment of this grand adventure.


This is an upper view of the beach, though I would moreso call it a mini resort.


There’s so much to see and do while walking the beach, I picked up a ton of seashells and took photos of nice scenic places along the way.


The waves and ocean is just breathtaking. A photo cannot do it justice.


I had a blast just walking the beach, and took a few keepsake photos.


I got a massage while looking at the ocean, just an incredible experience.


At night this place transforms! It was such a surreal experience.


There were also a ton of animals living here, and this is one of my favorite shots of them.


Finally, the staff and food was amazing. This is lobster stuffed with shrimp, and yes it was delicious!

“Pared De La Verdad” – El Salvador Day 13/15

After our three groups finished our separate service sites, today we all debriefed as a whole group about our placements, what we learned, and what we learned about ourselves. My group presented first, and it detailed what my 10th blog post summarized. The second group went to work with women who faced/currently face injustice issues and their summary was very powerful and educational to the group. The final group briefed us on their experiences in an elementary school, the surrounding community, and how affiliated gang members fit into this social structure. Again, it was enlightening and provided a rich context of life for affiliated El Salvadorians.


With our final lunch at Hotel Oasis finished (because the beach would be our last overnight stay in the country) we had our last formal presentation by AMATE of the LGBTI community. Unlike the United States where LGBT”Q” (queer and/or questioning is used) the “I” stands for intersex, where both genitals are represented. In summary, the discussion was very enlightening because as a heterosexual male, I have much to learn about the struggle of this community. With every comment and statement made, I thought about how I could be more of an advocate and be inclusive for understanding the needs of this community, especially because I will be sure to encounter many students in my profession of Higher Education and Student Affairs who identify in this way. While many of my classmates were able to provide factual statements and comments, my contribution was mostly through questions, meaning I am not as informed as I should be, especially with my chose profession. In the future I will inquired and learn more about this topic to be as inclusive as possible–because I accept all individuals and believe like religion, politics, etc., differences should be embraced and all should be accepted, especially with love as the core factor in this case.


After out group reflection and final formal presentation, the entire group was able to visit Shicali, a ceramics store where the items are all handcrafted by a person with special needs or a disability. When I looked at these items I was reminded that everyone has talents and abilities no matter their outward appearance; the internal drive to positively contribute to society is all one needs to make their abilities known and I was glad this business conveyed that. Additionally, I have a brother with low to mild special needs, and I was reminded of him and how he also conveys this notion as he obtains his bachelors degree and follow his dreams. I was more than happy to buy from this business because it is concrete proof of the extraordinary abilities of persons with special needs, not to mention the proceeds would go directly back into the community.


The Wall of Truth was our next stop, a detailed, beautiful wall that told a powerful story of El Salvador. 10% of the wall was covered with visually crafted scenes that told a historic story, with the remaining 90% dedicated to those who were affected prior to the Peace Accord, which included some (not all) stacked names of missing/murdered El Salvadorians and those who were thankfully rescued and/or found.


The power of the truth has become strikingly influential for my study abroad experience. Many El Salvadorians tell testimonies, write literature, and share experiences all focused on the truth to reflect on it, explain the repercussions of actions, and debrief about how this experience affected themselves and others. This, little did I know, would be a huge life lesson I embraced personally on this study abroad experience.


I was able to grow both personally and professionally on this study abroad experience, and after a day of buying final souvenirs and having dinner with my great classmates, it became very apparent how important the truth is, especially when it effects others. Mistakes happen, and how you deal with them and learn from them matters most, in addition to accepting the attached consequences. I can wholeheartedly say that honesty is indeed the best policy, and thinking about actions before making decisions is one of the most powerful tools humans have at their disposals. Just like the Wall of Truth, honesty is best conveyed openly and in its entirety.

“Pensamientos Aleatorios” – El Salvador Day 12/15

I have had MANY experience on this trip that do not necessarily fit into a day’s blog post, so because I did the exact same service project today as yesterday, I dedicated this post to some aspects of this trip that don’t necessarily fit into other blogs, but nonetheless are quite interesting and educational.


The first is how the city is structured and built. There are many different styles of living in El Salvador (ES). The rural Santa Marta is very open to nature with how the homes and rooms are built. However, San Salvador (where my Hotel Oasis is) has a more modern look in terms of traffic, buildings, etc.


To elaborate on the city structure, ES has one of the best highway/road systems in Central America. Even though ES is considered a two thirds world country, it is important to remember it has modern aspects of what we consider “modern”, which is essentially just social construction. I thought this photo of construction workers nicely captures this notion.


The food here is so great and flavorful–chicken, fish, beef, every meat I’ve had is just delicious! Fruits and veggies are another highly eaten item and avocado (and lime) is great in almost anything. Plantains can be fried like potato chips to make a tasty snack and I bought many of them! Pupusas (a thin bread folded in meat, beans, and/or cheese) are another great food and I learned how to make them.


Street life is always busy in the urban areas, with people selling food, items, hanging around, or the rare sight of street performers. A single photo does not do this guy justice, though nevertheless here’s a glimpse of his show.


In the United States I’m used to security guards and the occasional police offices, but in ES there is the national civilian police paid by the government. They carry many different guns (simi-automatics, handgun, shotguns, etc.) and it took some getting used to being so close to them because they patrol many areas we frequent. They do smile.


The last day at Programa Velasco, my service site, was similar to yesterday. The highlight though was I was able to sponsor Axel, who’s almost 3 years old and is just an awesome little guy. I have always wanted to support a child in a different country and it felt so right to do so. Hopefully this will ensure Axel makes it to the 1st grade and lives a happy, safe life. I’m already looking forward to getting some mailed updates from him!

“Adorables Niños” El Salvador Day 11/15

H. Bart Merkel, Vice Provost of student affairs at Grand Valley State University says: “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” Indeed, how you grow up has so much influence on your childhood, adolescent years, and young adult path. I was home schooled and had the fortunate opportunity to grow up free of mental/physical abuse, bullying, peer pressure and dictation. Exactly on the contrary: I grew up doing what I liked, which is drawing, playing video games, and helping others. My tattoos, hobbies, friendships, and profession echoes this testament.


For this study abroad experience there are three placement sites where my classmates and I could work for the next few days. The first is with current and ex gang affiliated youth, the second is with girls who have been victims and/or survivors of human trafficking, and the last site was working with kids 2-7 in a preschool program. I, of course, chose the most educationally focused placement. Ironically and iconically, I asked for wisdom via our celebrity guest Melissa Leo before she left us what was the best way for new college students to possibly realize what their place in life is and how to commit to a career path. Her response: “Ask your mother or father how you genuinely acted as a kid and how you developed naturally, and where might this lead.” This was powerful because in summary, how you acted as a kid is a natural representation of your true self. I kept this in mind as I reflected on my own constructive childhood and for the kids I would encounter today.


After dividing and getting to our placement sites, the school was a beautiful building surrounded by vegetation, bight soothing colors, and posters and paintings of Mons. Romero. We met two North American coordinators and they explained that this building started as an orphanage, gives scholarships to needy families, aims to provide holistic care, includes a health checkup which is “preventive focused” while other health clinics are “curing focused” with natural medicine a priority, detailed commitment that all children have access to a genuine counselor/physician, and equal access to education that will prep students for elementary school.


As soon as I entered a classroom on our tour, the kids gravitated to me and began jumping, talking in Spanish and grabbing me to follow them to different places around the room. My two classmates and I said our names in Spanish, and because my name is a common Spanish/Italian/Hispanic/Latino name it was easy for them to pronounce, albeit said in a slightly different way. I was placed with 5-year-olds and our first part of the day was recess.


Playing with the kids was truly a genuine moment of this study abroad experience when I interacted with innocence in the most absolute of context. El Salvador may have many ecological trials and political challenges, but these kids are able to have fun without the cares of murder, drugs, etc. Playing on the swing, climbing play ladders, sliding, high fives and playing with toys with them filled the bright, breezy afternoon and I had just as much fun as those adorable kids did.


Inside the kids were learning about careers (the irony of this day is just unimaginable) and the children learned how to pronounce and articulate careers such as firefighters, police officers, doctors, etc., and we drew and colored in what these careers were visually. I drew a police officer and colored it in as the kids kept showing me their drawings and I would give them their deserved affirmation. I ended my time with them by playing with blocks, puzzles, stuffed animals, and other toys before leaving. I hoped to myself that these innocent kids could grow up free of violence, sexual abuse and other injustices we heard about during our orientation here. I want to know each and every one of them can go to college if they want and can pursue the careers they have a genuine interest in and drive for.


Our last stop was to a few home visits, where the two coordinators would visit the homes of the parents and chat about their academic performances and behavior–both praises and concerns. We took the city bus to the first stop and it reminded me of home because I took one so frequently there. Interestingly, it was only 20 cents per ride. We got off and met a young women with an adorable 2-year-old son and we walked to their home to chat about casual, random conversational topics. We played with toys at their house and I let him draw on my 3DS and watch the intro to Tales of The Abyss, one of my favorite RPG games. The second visit was similar, though there were two older teenage boys with the youngest an excellent anime artist and the oldest owning close to 30 swimming medals! I congratulated them both and hoped that like the kids I met today at the preschool, they could make a living out of what truly makes them happy.


“Universidad Premio” – El Salvador Day 10/15

It is truly difficult to know what you want to dedicate your life to, and it can be even more difficult to have a support system to help navigate this challenge. That is why I chose to work in higher education and student affairs; working with young students to navigate their career paths invigorates, energizes and gives me personal fulfillment. While this study abroad experience is grounded in a Social Work framework, there is much overlap in higher education and student affairs with administration tasks, teaching, and mediating and/or counseling for those we work with. Today, I was able to visit the Universidad Centroamericana “José Simeón Cañas (UCA) and learn about its rich history and meet with the students.


UCA has a powerful history and presence in this country because of its association to political and social happenings. Again, it’s best to research this history on the internet because a quick summary cannot do it justice. A tour of a museum within the university was our first course of action and we learned the Jesuit history of the institution and the brutal history associated with this beautiful area. These actions were very depressing, and the last stop at the chapel area was just a final testament to the struggle this place and supporters faced. Admittedly, I cried because of the overwhelming heartache I can’t even articulate. However I was quickly comforted by a very special person I will expand on later.


After quickly returning to my positive self, I was able to freely explore this awesome campus. The first area I stumbled upon was a classroom where a professor was giving a lecture. The students were engaged and a few students smiled and waved as I looked into their class. As I walked around I noticed the beautiful architecture and just wondered about the vast amount of knowledge that was shared between students and professors.


While exploring I asked every student I could in Spanish what they were studying. Like most El Salvadorians they were receptive with a smile and I quickly learned that Sociology, History, and Religion were among the most common. When I heard many majors and was able to reflect on this for a moment, it makes sense that these were the most common areas of study given the history of this institution and the tradition that most El Salvadorian give back to their communities anyway. While these were just a few common majors, it’s easy to realize these areas of studies are connected to understanding the historic events here and preparing students to give constructively back to their community, rather it’s teaching this history to others or providing programs or services to mend the hurt caused by political, governmental, and military strife. Knowing students were here to educate themselves just energized me and reminded me again that these are the types of students I want to work with and support, internationally or domestically.


My last stop was to the bookstore to buy some university-specific items. I met some students who spoke English and we talked in length about what we were studying, our home countries, and general interest. The student I conversed with most showed me where the bookstore was and I gave him my Facebook information per request. After spending about an hour there, while leaving he and his friends yelled “adios Mario” and I vowed to come back to this great university at some point in the future.


Our next stop was to the Fernando Llort art gallery, a locally owned art gallery where all kinds of detailed, handmade items were created. I spent more money here than anywhere else, and knew these funds would be going right back into their community. Our last two stops really raised my awareness of issues El Salvador currently faces, with the United States tied almost intently with them. The first was on mining, environments, and ecology issues and their negative effects on the country. My pre departure report was on this topic so while I had much context, I learned to really be aware and inquire where my items may be coming from and ponder where they produced ethically. The second talk was on immigration, where I learned about remittances, current international affairs, and how aspects such as student visas may affect my profession of higher education and student affairs.


Tonight was a night to debrief, though before that during dinner one of my classmates found out that the guest traveling with us for a week and who was leaving today was actually a genuine celebrity named Melissa Leo, a Golden Globe, Emmy, and other award winning actress. This entire time my classmates and I treated her like a normal person, when in reality we have all ALREADY met her informally in motion pictures and on popular television shows. My biggest memory of her, while still not knowing her celebrity identity, was comforting me at UCA when I was most vulnerable from hearing all these El Salvadorian struggles. However, my classmates and I agreed that if we knew, we would focus on her celebrity status, asking for autographs, and not treating her like the normal person we thought she was. I will never, ever, forget being in a foreign country, crying in my most comfortable environment and being comforted by Melissa Leo. Wow.

“Santa Marta” – El Salvador Days 7-9/15

Making generalizations of a whole based off a piece will never give an accurate representation, nor set constructive expectations. My first full weekend in El Salvador would be in a community known as Santa Marta, though first our group had a very important stop to make.


Ciudad Mujer is an organization focused on women’s services for health, employment skills, legal rights and child care if needed for the clients. Because this facility also supports women who may have been abused in some way by their partners, I was thankful that the other males and I could partake in the tour. The facility is very modern with high-tech equipment and the most up-to-date services for the women they serve. Health literacy, work skills, legal counsel, and other empowerment activities were the foundation of Ciudad Mujer. After touring the facility our group had lunch at San Rafael Cedros where we stocked up on supplies before heading to the rural Santa Marta.


After driving for about an hour or so, we reached Radio Victoria, which is close to Santa Marta and will be detailed later. Our group had the great opportunity to hike to Santa Marta from Radio Victoria and the sights, trails, and views were amazing. I had to keep reminding myself I was in another country as I looked at the scenery and reflected on this new area. The mountains, volcanoes, trails, and vegetation all looked new and historic, leaving me in awe with each new area or path I encountered. I was personally thankful for this opportunity and wondered what new college students would see these same sights in the future.


Later this night, I met the host family I would be staying with, and it was a phenomenal experience. Foremost, their living area was not as modern as I was used to, yet was filled with organization, love, community, and spirit. After touring the area, my roommate/classmate and I met the family, and this would become the highlight of my trip this far. There was a high schooler, college student and an elementary student. I connected with the 10-year-old not through Spanish communication, but through video games.


He liked Pokémon (just like me) and had a Nintendo DSi (I had a Nintendo 3DS) and we momentarily traded games to play and played a multiplayer racing game. It was genuine bonding and we both connected on a very high and relevant level even though we spoke different languages (video games was the common language understood by both of us) . While I liked the experience as a whole, connecting with him really reinforces my notion and advocacy that video games are teaching and educating tools, and I was glad to be able to share it with such an awesome niño. We also colored in a coloring book together and I gave him a drawing of a Pikachu which we colored together after I sketched it out.


Santa Marta is a very strong and resilient community. I cannot do it justice in a brief paragraph. In between staying with my host family, we heard testimonies for residents who lived through the civil war struggle, political corruption and brutal deaths and action. I would recommend researching the El Salvadorian civil war, and getting context for what these residents were speaking on. The most impactful aspect of their stories were two aspects: The first was they were still smiling, still positive after dealing with such inhumane actions and giving hospitality to us as United States citizens, who aided in prolonging the civil war due to providing funding to ARENA, the fraction fighting against FMLN, the party which supported and protected them. The second is how EVERY person said in some way we cannot stop talking about this to remind the next generation and others of these actions. Where I’m from (and this is a generalization) my country is moreso focused on presenting one in a best light, focusing on the positive, and not heavy speaking on non-positive actions for the best portrayal possible. This reminded me that both the positive and the negative historical acts and experiences are needed for growth, learning, and teaching.


After saying goodbye to our host families, fully exploring Radio Victoria was our last stop before heading back to Hotel Oasis. This was an impactful talk because my pre-study abroad project was on the effects of mining in El Salvador. Radio Victoria started as tape recorded talks and advanced to a full radio station that is still currently played around the community. Listening to the struggles of the staff being threatened, stalked and even some murdered because of their reporting on negative mining effects was heartbreaking, and from 2009 to present, there has been no prosecution for these crimes. Though I was content when the two speakers made it clear they had the support of the community and the US though solidarity visits such as ours. We ended the talk with my classmates and I giving positive comments live on air on their radio station to the community. It was an unforgettable action and I was so thankful to be apart of their struggle and fight for protection, equality, and safety. Aren’t these protections all humans should have? When I return to my community, I will be motivated to be much more inclusive, giving, positive, willing, patient, and trusting: trusting that anything is possible with the support and commitment of others.


“Día de Trabajo” – El Salvador Day 6/15

Today was an important day in El Salvador. Unlike my previous days where there was much to do in one day, only one activity was planned for today: attending the workers day march on May 1st, which is somewhat equivalent to our Labor Day. This was not a protest or parade; it was a march where El Salvadorians could come together and celebrate their right to work and express opinions, thoughts, and politics that affected it. I was also told our group would be looked at even more, including photos being taken and interviews conducted.


The first aspect I noticed was how this was celebrated compared to my home country of the United States. Labor Day there is still celebrated, but more individually or between close family members and friends. El Salvador’s celebration seem much more collective and simply looking at the crowd of people (those in the march and those watching the march) can convey the unity between these citizens. My classmates and I all take different messages from what we see, and mine was there were young adults and university students there supporting the cause. This was great to see, and really reinforces their term of solidarity into an action instead of just a word.


I felt I was drawing attention to our group, and many bystanders of the march would take my photo, and I poised of many of them either by myself, with them or with classmates. At this time I wondered what they would do with those photos. Would they say to friends they met a North American? Were they happy with our presence here? Was there more we could/should have been doing instead of just watching?


Nevertheless, everyone was friendly so hopefully our presence was positive and supportive. There were moments, however, when many would gather to take photos quickly, similar to a paparazzi shoot. I didn’t care for this because I felt it took the focus off the marchers and put them on me. I was only watching, and it should be the hard-working marchers who get the attention.


I was interviewed about three or four times, within minutes of our professors telling the class to brace for it. The first interview, a young adult about my age had a pad of paper and asked why I was here and why did I support this. I responded that it was great to see such collective effort and I indeed supported this gathering. The second interview was from another young adult who asked basically the same question, only this time he held his cell phone up to me so I can only assume it was recording. I responded the same way and tried my best to convey myself accurately and responsibly.


This was a powerful event, and what made me most happy was that I saw MANY groups and individuals who my group met with since I’ve been here. One of the masculinity facilitators, the ACSYECA speaker, the community leaders who spoke on caring/changing behaviors for the gangs, and even our Hotel Oasis staff were there and greeted us. The unity I felt was so moving, and I could only image the native citizens sharing this feeling on an even more powerful level.


“Educación Superior” – El Salvador Day 5/15

For me, a photo can capture the appearance, but it can’t capture the essence; my feelings do while my memories retain them. With that said, “You cannot unknow what you know” & “Knowledge is power” are two phrases that perfectly convey my stance on education, specifically with higher education. My 5th day in El Salvador was filled with reminders of why learning is a necessity for an empowered, broadened, and informed life. Just being still and observing life can teach you just as much as a professor, teacher, mentor, and other educators. However, understanding the past and prior experiences in general are among the the greatest routes for learning, and I was able to do this the entire day and due to some excellent connections. When I teach my freshman students next year, I will also motivate them to learn from the world around them on their own accord as well.


The first stop was to Divina Providencia where Arch Bishop Romero lived and was assassinated. He was an individual who supported El Salvadorians of the lower class who struggled due to unjust and inhumane treatments. It was heavy depressing to be in the actual place he was killed, and I took photos of the church only, not the gruesome, explicit photos of his death or his personal effects.

For me, a photo can capture the appearance, but it can’t capture the essence; my feelings do while my memories retain them.


This was enough for me, and I took a photo of a soothing bird that made me feel constructive peace in a place that witness such destructive actions.


The next location was a talk with David Morales, Procurator for the Defense of Human rights. This was a detailed conversation that was broad enough to cover the necessities, yet detailed on each point. The piece on El Salvadorian higher education was of course where my interest was. The equivalent of a bachelors degree in ES takes five years, and there is one public university and many private institutions, yet it is difficult for many to get here due to inadequate primary education. Also, their focus in majors is on law, medical, philosophy and theology, with technology, sociology, and the arts almost entirely removed from major offerings. I was so discontented after heating this. The world is a diverse learning space, and by limiting the knowledge available to these students is actually LIMITING their learning, and the contributions they can make to their society and communities. Traveling to the USA to study is an option, but immigration and limitations on foreign students hinders more than helps. It is a vicious, limiting cycle that need to be reformed.


Our last location was a park where my group planned activities and games for elementary to middle school-aged girls who are and/or were victims and/or survivors of human trafficking. We played basketball, soccer, and a few ice breaker games and they had a fun time. I was hesitant as a male to do too much interacting with them due to their possible bad experiences, but the group climate was great and we just had fun playing without worries–I was happy to see the kids having the type of fun kids should have. At this moment I realized I’ve interacted with ES gang members and victims and/or survivors of human trafficking, and they all had smiles during our interactions. I really cannot articulate how I feel, or should feel, about that. I know one thing though, my little niño friend who I played catch with really energized me and kept my focus on having fun with the kids. He is an awesome little guy and won’t be forgotten.

“Despertado” – El Salvador Day 4/15

Education, opportunity, privilege, resources, and motivation are just a few components to understanding the world and all its historic events and happenings. Today would bring these five together in a way I’ve never experienced. During breakfast, our professor let us know one of our classmates would be heading back to Michigan for health reasons. We have a tight group, so while we understand the reasons, nevertheless the person will be missed and hopefully our group interactions will still be full of energy, perspectives and excitement.


Our first stop today was to Equipo Maiz an organization known for El Salvador (ES) publications, education and advertising, to learn the history of El Salvador from their earliest recorded to the present. I cannot summarize hundreds of years of knowledge and events, but I can highlight some key factors. The indigenous natives of El Salvador (the Pipil) spoke a language known as Náhuat, though when the Spanish arrived and colonized (took) their land, the Pipil were stripped of their traditions and cultures. The Spanish also raped many women, and that is one reason why the majority of current El Salvadorians are of blended Pipil/Spanish heritage. The speaker used detailed cartoon drawings given to each of us to convey key pieces of history in chronological order, and I encourage readers to research their history further, including the civil wars, political fractions (FMLN & ARENA) and the part the United States played in this struggle.


Our next activity was an economic exercise at the San Miguelito market. Our group split up in groups of threes and we each took a list of items to buy. The inside of the market was filled with fruit, veggies and common household items. After getting what was on the list, A saleslady held up some boxer briefs and smiled, and I soon found myself saying “no gracias” a lot. As usual, people were all nice though and knew by my culture, clothes, etc., that I was from abroad. After we returned with all our items, we debriefed as a group about how much the foodstuff cost, minimum wage prices, and calculating logistics of working enough hours to make enough money to by food that can sustain a person or family. Like the history talk, it raised awareness of this system.


We had dinner and got to explore Suchitoto at the end of day. Though first we visited the Art Center for Peace to talk with Sister Peggy O’Neil. This community was beautiful and sister O’Neil’s witty, honest and compassionate talk forced me to pause in my adrenaline rush of studying abroad to reflect on who I am, what I’m doing, and who/what is affected by it. Though I am a Christian, it has been a while since I’ve been to church, and her words were like nostalgic hymns I had once memorized and almost forgotten.


Her words and anecdotes made me feel vulnerable, they made me think about thoughts I needed to reflect and process but haven’t. Who am I? I’m a young adult aiming to work in higher education and student affairs. I’m at my absolute best when I’m in this environment, and I just have this internal feeling that this is where I belong: helping new college students navigate their new environment. What am I doing? I’m trying to be the best, excel, never lose and always succeed. This is where I need work. Her talk conveyed there are more important aspects of life and professional work than winning–it’s what’s learned that matters, and mistakes are a part of this process. I’m far from perfect and only allow others to see the “best me”. While it’s nothing serve, I did learn it’s best to solve internal/external problems to avoid them in the future and focus on succeeding.


Her last point, who is affected by the work I do was the biggest question poised, and I only have half an answer. I want to positively work with college students. However, how will I process this El Salvador experience when I leave? Honestly, life is not what I thought it was growing into a young adult living a very sheltered, privileged life (even while being a minority of oppressions via Africa/The United States). The systems of oppressions globally, lack/fabrications/omissions of education globally, and dictated hierarchies anger me–they make me feel angry because of the unnecessary suffering attached to them. My classmate leaving for home may be gone tomorrow, but that person said something that will alway stay with me:

“I may not be able to change the world, but I can change the world of one person.”


I sat in my El Salvadorian environment and thought about this for hours, because it made me happy. Happy that there are social workers, educators, and other individuals out there trying to make a difference. If enough people took this type of ideology, then the world really could be changed for the betterment of equality and justice. The machete I bought represents this: though the blade is sharp and capable of destruction, if handled correctly it can be used for good and no harm sheathed. This is pictured against my College Student Affairs Leadership M.Ed. binder. While I am not a social worker, I am an educator, and by working with college student I hope to impact them to make positive choices domestically and remind (or introduce to) them that there is work to be done globally.