Global Service Scholar: Josary Perez
Country: Paraguay

When one considers going into a country other than one’s own, the differences between the two are what one often considers most. Before arriving in Paraguay, I imagined how different the people, the culture, and the housing would be; yet, I never thought to consider the similarities. The students we met reminded me so much of myself when I was younger. I saw the same insecurities and aspirations that I once had. Despite the conservative culture in which they were raised, all of the students were open to our ideas and input.

I was surprised by how mature and resourceful the students were. I couldn’t see how we could possibly help such capable and strong youth. It wasn’t until our final days with the students that I realized that the help that I envisioned giving differed from that help that was needed. I was prepared to leave under the impression that our time at the San Francisco Agricultural School failed to leave a lasting impact, but after hearing the experiences of students, I quickly changed my mind. I learned that our impact, although imperceptible to us, was seen in the students. They had opened up and allowed us to see their lives just as we had allowed them into ours. We listened to them when few others would, and in doing so we formed lasting bonds.

Often the importance of listening to others goes overlooked. I myself had belittled its importance and thus our impact. However, seeing the things that made us so similar, that unified us, and made our dreams as conceivable as theirs was enough. Moreover, the aid we provided was mutual; we learned new things from one another, and that alone was one of the greatest rewards of our trip. I personally learned a few words in Guarani, in addition to learning about the process of making cheese, and the significance of tereré (a traditional South American drink). More notably, I learned about the aspirations held by the students, as well as the roads they took to get to where they currently are. In turn, we did the same.

Although, it is easy to dismiss this change as marginal in impact, I have learned that just because this change isn’t tangible does not mean that it isn’t important. Consequently, I left Paraguay with a sense of hope. Although there is still so much work to be done, I know that the groups that come after us and the students that remain at the San Francisco Agricultural School will be able to build upon our work. Furthermore, my experience in Paraguay will live on in my future work. Working at the agricultural school rekindled my interest in education and gave me a venue to integrate mental health into education. Consequently, I hope to continue to work in this intersection of fields in the future. Perhaps, my path may even one day lead me back to Paraguay.