“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.