“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!

“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

“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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The Ultimate Study Guide

There are millions of study guides out there covering many subjects. However, The Ultimate Study Guide below has you covered for all your courses in three main areas.  Let readers know which works best for you or if you would add anything else in the comments section below (no registration required). And two lucky comments will be chosen for study supplies valued at $20. [Sweepstakes ends 02/10/13]

 

Write/Type It Out!

The main goal of any study guide is to help you retain the information. However, just reading a study guide over and over is not always the best way to retain information. (Ever read an entire textbook chapter and learn nothing? Yeah.) Writing or typing key terms and information can help you remember much better because it’s an active, engaging process. That said, take a scrap  piece of paper or open up a word processing file and type, write, type, write in addition to reading over a study guide.

 

Note Comparisons

How does your notes stack up against the student sitting behind you? What if they found that definition you were looking for? And ironically you know how to answer the short answer question they’re struggling with. Knowledge is a puzzle, though you can easily put the pieces together if you work together. Try and compare notes and study guides with classmates whenever possible, that way you all win.

 

Review, Review, Review!

This is the biggest. Aim to actively read your notes and study guides at least once everyday (or more) for all subjects. It’s all about consistency. A nice way to test yourself is to look at a term/question/concept and if you cannot immediately answer/define it then type/write it out! Also, discussing grey areas with classmates or having them test you also can find focus points.

 

zerolockedMario Adkins is a senior at Grand Valley State University (GVSU). When not drawing or playing his favorite video games, he can be found on campus facilitating programs and events as both a resident assistant and vice president of membership for GVSU’s OΔK Circle–a national leadership honor society. Follow him on Twitter @zerolocked.