It has been a few days since I have returned home from my time abroad in Colombia and I can only use one word to describe the transition back; “surreal”. It feels surreal to be speaking English, to be wearing clean clothes, to have hot showers and Deet-free evenings. Less than a week ago, I was in the rainforest; unplugged from the Internet, taking short, cold showers; learning about myself, tasting the local cuisine and battling the evening bugs. I am sitting here fiddling with bracelets made by two little girls in a nearby Amazonian village and it heavies my heart. It is difficult to sum up all my feelings and experiences from this whirlwind trip, and even more difficult to believe it was only two weeks long. Adventures can and should be life-changing and as easy as it can be to pack your bags and leave on a vacation, studying abroad is something quite different; it takes the adventure to another level.
I signed up for this trip without knowing the first thing about any of my travel mates, but if you asked me now, I could tell you a little life story about each and every one of them. Our group was comprised of youths, the youngest being nineteen, as well as a seasoning of older people, pushing sixty and everywhere in between. I personally fit the “in between” category, but on this trip people transcended their ages. We all became tight; a bond was forged through living, eating, soul searching and experiencing new aspects of life together. Even through language barriers, I befriended our Bogota bus driver Orlando whom I sat beside everyday. Elvis, our dear Amazon expert became a friend for life. He showed me his life in the rainforest, pointed out ancient pink dolphins and kept me safe as we slept in the rainforest in hammocks.Without these people, our Kwantlen teachers Lucie and Lee and our generous hosts Marlene and Diego Samper, my experience would have not been as rich. There is something uniquely uplifting about being a sobbing mess at our daily gratitude chats over dinner. I am someone who normally keeps her emotions to herself but in this group, in the grand setting of Amazon, while listening to loud frogs, birds and the lapping of the Amazon River, I felt free to express everything. I felt safe, supported and loved and from the outpouring of emotion around me, I’m sure the others would agree.
Studying abroad in a field school such as this one allows you to immerse rapidly into a country and culture. The sheer amount of activities we were able to experience was exhausting in the best of ways. Every day had a packed itinerary. We rose between 6-7am, were out the door by 8 and back around sundown at 6. Having guides and teachers to walk us through local customs, translate and educate us on how to interact the rainforest and its people, always with conservation in mind, was priceless. It also helped with our access; we went to many villages in the Amazon that were only open to those invited. We danced traditional dances, wandered through pristine first-growth forests, swam in black waters and even played soccer in extreme heat with the locals. We met with shamans, and learned ancient medicine, met with the ladies of the villages and learned the art of basket weaving, pottery, bracelet making and went fishing with the men and learned how to successfully remove tarantulas from our bedrooms. I only screamed once, bravely holding open doors for big fury spiders to whizz passed my head on their trip back into the rainforest.
I will leave you with this: If you have ever asked yourself, “Should I take a leap and face my fears? Should I go and experience the hot humid weather, bugs and see animals of the Amazon? Should I meet new people, learn a new language, laugh, cry and grow as a person?”
The answer is resounding Yes! Yes you should because it will be one of the best experiences of your life and perhaps you will come back feeling as inspired, ready to take on global issues and eager to help the biosphere live in harmony as I am. Who knows, maybe I will have the means to go again, as an experienced aid and be able to help guide you on your own personal adventure of a lifetime.
By: Lisa King, winner of the BCSA Stories from Abroad Scholarship