“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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“Café Delicioso” – El Salvador Day 2/15

Light was filled in the room when I woke up in my second day in El Salvador, and the exotic sound of birds chirping woke me up before my iPhone’s alarm. There’s a bird that chirps with a sound similar to a harmonica and it sounds heavenly. It honestly seems like I’ve been here for three days because each day is full and takes much energy to tackle and process. Breakfast was great as usual and our first agenda item was a testimony from Damian Alegria, who is now a deputy of El Salvador. His testimony was powerful and talked about his journey into FMLN during their civil war and their fights against ARENA (similar to the United States’ democratic and republican parties respectively). In short, he was captured three times and escaped because of the loyalty he shared with his comrades. The ARENA (who controlled the El Salvadorian government at the time) used dictatorship to control the country and now Damian still works to improve the country to this day.

If there are two main exports El Salvador (ES) is known for it’s indigo (blue dye) and coffee. Because indigo was soon synthetically produced, coffee became the main export, and many internet searches will frame this in a positive light. However, it’s far from positive. The ES president at the time valued the marketability of coffee to the extreme by claiming land where coffee could grow and hiring basically the equivalent to slaves to grow and harvest the coffee. My group spent much of our day at El Jabali Coffee Cooperative, where the coffee is fair trade (genuine labor and prices) and organic (meaning no chemicals were used in the growth process). The owner Miguel, similar to the hospitality of other El Salvadorians, offered us coffee are afternoon. I truly like coffee, and his was so delicious I could drink it without cream and sugar. It was smooth and very flavorful. We got a tour of the area and learned about ALL of the logistics involved with growing coffee: from how they are planted to exporting details.

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The attached photo is of a coffee plant infected with a fungi know as “Roya”, which thrives on the leaves of coffee trees, choking off the source of nutrition for the coffee cherries that encase beans. Afflicted trees produce fewer cherries, and harvested beans are sapped of flavors. Because this coffee farm is organic, they cannot use chemicals which could get rid of it because it would go against their organic farming and they could lose funding. It is indeed bittersweet, and was truly an enlightening session. The lunch we were given was as flavorful as what I’ve quickly grown to expect from ES food. I bought 5 bags off coffee and cannot wait to brew it.

The last stop was to an open market area called Paseo El Carmen, and it was an urban, exciting, and bright place. As usual, we received smiles and attention from El Salvadorians and were always treated nicely. I bought a ton of souvenirs and want to make as many purchases as I can to remember this amazing country (it also helps give back to the communities because many crafts and items are handmade). What truly impacted me this day was a little adorable El Salvadorian boy who walked up to my group and handed us little pieces of paper, which in summary were asking for money so he could buy food for his family.

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This honestly broke my heart because he was so young, yet had a business ethic and strategy to obtain money. However, I was left with many questions. Was he being exploited by his parents? Did he do this on his own? How did he get these pieces of papers typed up via a computer, printed, and cut? During our debriefing our group was reminded of solidarity, which means understanding someone where they are without a hierarchy and as social workers and educators we cannot “save” the world, only help as best as we could. Would giving him money have helped? Did they eat tonight? These are the types of questions I just cannot help asking myself. Hopefully, and truly, I hope he did.

“Los Problemas” – El Salvador Day 0/15

I’m an American. I’m a young adult. I like video games, drawing, writing, and research. Then there are El Salvadorians, who have vastly different values and priorities than myself. El Salvador (which mean “The Savior”) is a beautiful country which lives up to its namesake. Rich in Myan and Aztec culture due to their close proximity, El Salvador is a country were it initially was able to embrace its culture without outside influences; this means traditions, customs and languages were rich between the Pipils, the earliest known group that would soon become modern-day El Salvadorians. However, with the rest of the world industrializing and expanding, this culture would soon change in many ways. 1524 brought about the first wave of intrusion by the Spanish, and since then there has been constant clashes regarding El Salvador ownership and identity.

 

Today, El Salvador is classified as a two-thirds world country, and issues such as inequality in work, political corruption, human trafficking, and gang scuffles flood this beautiful area, just to name a few. For myself, this study abroad experience will be a balance between noting the positives of this rich culture with lavish landscapes while simultaneously accepting the negative foundation of current events and historical acts that contributed to its current state. I was told that as an American, many natives will want to take a photo with me, request specific items unobtainable there, and inquire about my views on politics. While here, I can treat this experience in two different ways: I can be passive. I can simply listen to the speakers during sessions and take notes, take photos while touring the country, and buy as many survivors as I can afford. I can also be active. I can do the before-mentioned actions while also inquiring the “whys” and “hows”. I can use my research skills to do strategic planning for organizations with limited resources. I’m no solider fighting for either country. I’m not a millionaire able to contribute greatly, nor do have access to staffing resources to address major issues. However, I do have drive, and even though I cannot positively impact the country, a city, or an organization, I’ll make all efforts to positively impact that one, single, individual or issue. Also, this experience isn’t necessarily about “me”. I’m a guest of this county and to achieve  solidarity this must be remembered. I may not be “The Savior“, but I will be active in the work I do here.

 

Asociación ~

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