An Experience Like No Other

This was easily the best experience of my life.

I learned so much about myself, the community, Human Connections and created amazing relationships with the people I worked with.  As I talked about in my post about Don Enrique, he was the community member that I developed the deepest relationship with. He shared his family history, his business and his personal goals with Kyle and I. He is a humble man trying to share his art with the world.  We were fortunate enough to help him get a few steps closer to those goals through the community consulting project. Working with Don Enrique and other members of the community transformed me.

I have not always been the most open minded when it came to different cultures and experiences and this trip completely changed my thought process. I am much more open and am not so quick to judge others and their experiences. I plan to continue in this mindset by pursuing a career that involves the social space and allows me to help other people change their way of thinking. I know this experience had a positive impact on my life and I want to bring that to others.

Participating in the leadership workshop at Entreamigos was the hardest and most rewarding thing I have ever done. I shared a story that I had never told out loud, on stage in front of many people that I didn’t know. This was mentally and emotionally difficult, but has made me that much stronger of a leader for knowing where I came from and embracing my flaws.  Entreamigos became my home away from home. I made stronger connections in a week than I have had for most of my life. I learned so much about myself and what I have to offer the world and how I want to make an impact. I now have a different view on how to create personal and professional relationships and develop people into leaders with empathy and compassion.

This experience changed my worldview and perspective for the better. Like I said before I was quick to judge, wasn’t educated on all of the different walks of life, and wasn’t open-minded to different cultures. This experience broke down every barrier I had built and every stereotype I had previously. I grew more than I thought possible over the course of this four week trip.

The people I worked with both at Human Connections and Entreamigos are the reason for my personal growth. These people were and are the best people I have ever met. I developed strong bonds with each and every one of them. They were a key element in the outcome of my personal growth and experience. I hope that I can have as positive of an impact on the world as each of them has. I cannot wait to return to visit the strangers that became family on my Mexico adventure.

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The Man, The Myth, The Legend

I can’t believe I have already been in Mexico for three weeks! Only one week left 😦

This past week was our community consulting project. We were split into two teams to work with two different artisans. Kyle and I were paired with a local welder, Don Enrique. Being that I don’t know much about welding, I was glad to have Kyle, who knows something about everything.

Like I said above, Don Enrique is a welder by trade and spent most of his career working on industrial projects all over Mexico. He is originally from the state of Michoacán (which has a lot of violence) and after years of following his work and searching for a safe place to move his family, has settled in Bucerías. I don’t know about you, but when I envision welding, I think about a trade that requires you to get down and dirty, bust your backside, and work tirelessly on projects pertaining to construction, maintenance, plumbing, or industrial sites. Don Enrique’s welding is much different.18948895_1468199576578892_1280002701_o

Don Enrique has utilized his 40+ years of welding experience to create a business around artistic welding. He has taken a trade that isn’t normally viewed as beautiful and made it so. He ventured down this path after meeting a woman how encouraged him to incorporate traditional Mexican tiles in his pieces. Know Don Enrique’s product line includes home goods, furniture, and art.

When beginning this project, Kyle and I had a TON of ideas before our first meeting with Don Enrique. Instead of sharing these right off the bat, we decided to take a backseat and first find out what HIS goals were and what HE wanted us to help him achieve. This allowed us to listen to his expertise about his trade and listen to what he actually wanted. Many people go into a situation and think they know best on how to help, but this isn’t reality. You CAN’T help someone when you don’t know what they need or understand their culture and way of life.

Approaching the project in this way was the best thing we could have done. Don Enrique’s goal for us was to help him create a long-lasting impression on peoples lives through his work, come up with new creative product ideas, and help him bring a level of formality to his business, with his dream being to have his work shared around the globe (No pressure right?). Kyle and I were speechless. How were two college students from Illinois going to help this incredible man?

We knew that we had four days to work on this project before our final presentation to Don Enrique, so we got right to work. We met with him each day to pitch prototype ideas, run formal designs past him, get his feedback, and of course, continue learning about him on a personal level. Day by day, he inspired me more. He has overcome and faced so many hardships in his life, but he continues to work harder everyday to provide his children the opportunities they deserve. I was determined to help Don Enrique to the best of my ability.

Friday finally came and it was time for Kyle and I to present our finished work and for Don Enrique to show us his prototypes of our product ideas. I was so nervous! I wanted desperately to help him reach his goals. Our final meeting was here. Don Enrique walked through the door of our office with the biggest smile on his face. At most meetings, we spent some time catching up before getting down to business, but not this time. Don Enrique was SOOO excited about the new products he wanted to show us right away and…….Kyle and I froze.18926281_1468199556578894_1175499172_o

Don Enrique had taken the pictures of our ideas and brought them to life! We were so proud of him and he was so proud of how they turned out. We didn’t give him measurements, blue prints, or anything. Just pictures. And he turned them into art.

The rest of the meeting continued and we showed him all of the things we created for him; formal business cards that explain his story to attach to his products, table tents to inform customers about the labor behind the products, an inspiration board of even more product ideas, a complete pricing strategy with promotional options, and the option to continue using Kyle and I as a soundboard as new ideas arise and when he needs additional help reaching new goals. As we walked him through our work his smile grew until he began to tear up.18947192_1468187133246803_564614110_o

We then expressed how inspirational and humbling it had been to work with him and how strong of an individual he was. He was so excited about the work we had done and was incredibly happy with our deliverables, but what he said after our presentation was over is what will stay with me. “Thank you for all of your amazing work, it is truly appreciated. You have helped me believe in myself and my art again”(then it was my turn to hold back the happy tears).

Reflecting on this experience got me thinking about power. privilege, culture, and diversity. Don Enrique’s biggest priority is his family and staying true to his culture. How many of us can say those two things are our top priorities? How incredible is it that someone who has had every chance to give up and have a negative outlook on life, lives in such a positive, happy way? You don’t need power or privilege in order to do great things. All you need is kindness in your heart and humility.

Many people will read this and go about their day. Continuing to stereotype and separate themselves from diversity. If this experience, my experience, can change one persons perspective or destroy an existing stereotype, it will all be worth it ❤

Keep Your Heart and Mind Wide Open

From the moment I decided to embark on this adventure, I knew this was going to be WAY outside my comfort zone. I have not traveled much in my life, my longest trip lasting only 14 days. From 14 days to leaving for an entire month was something I had never thought I was capable of, but I decided to take the risk. Since I had never done anything like this before, I had no idea what to expect.

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It was finals week, so all I did was study. Leaving for Mexico at the end of the week wasn’t even on my radar. After finishing my Investments final Thursday evening, I had anticipated an extreme panic to kick in because I wasn’t packed or ready to leave. Surprisingly, I was calm thinking about the 3 short days I had before boarding my flight.

This was the best thing that could have happened to me. Typically, when preparing for an adventure, I have a packing list and an itinerary planned for the length of the trip (I know, not very spontaneous). This was the type of traveling I was used to because this was how my family vacations were growing up. There was always a plan to avoid wasting any time or missing any key landmarks. With so little time to plan and prepare for this adventure, I boarded my flight to Bucerías, Mexico with my heart and mind wide open.

After arriving, this openness allowed me to immerse myself into the local culture without hesitation or fear. I started using the little Spanish I know to communicate and listen to the stories of people from the indigenous Mexican cultures (and of course with some additional help from Jazmin 😊). The biggest change I am still experiencing is acquiring the truth behind the history and way of life in Mexico that isn’t taught in the United States.

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I have only been in Mexico for a week and a half and have already learned more about Mexican culture and priorities than I have in my 22 years living in the United States. This is how I feel I can help address the needs of the local community. Many tourists that visit Puerto Vallarta and Bucerías never leave their resort!! I was very surprised by this and it’s because of false information obtained in the United States.

For the rest of my time in Mexico, I plan to learn as much about the cultural, prioritization, family, tourism, and historical differences too shed some light on the truths about traveling in Mexico. I have come across many people in the United States that hold true to incorrect information they have learned about the country and the cultures here. From this experience, I will be able to correct those incorrect assumptions and help educate people on the truths about Mexico.

Over the next week, I will be spending some personal time getting to know members of the local community. Stay tuned to hear about my experience, their stories, and the impact they have on social justice.

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Human Connections Internship in Bucerías, Mexico

After the past few months of preparation, learning about responsible tourism, and packing I am finally in Bucerías, Mexico. Through Northern Illinois University, I was given the opportunity to intern abroad in Mexico. This internship focuses on responsible tourism. Responsible tourism is tourism that minimizes negative social, economic and environmental impacts. generates greater economic benefits for local people and enhances the well-being of host communities.

I have only been here for four days and this experience has already surpassed my expectations. Working with the local community and indigenous people has been such an eye opening experience that has really made me look at life in a new perspective. From going on a Human Connections day tour and meeting local families, to taking the bus up to Sayulita, and going on a boat tour of a local animal sanctuary called Estero El Salado.

I am looking forward to immersing myself into the local culture and gaining a new global perspective. In doing so, I hope to grow personally and professionally, become more adaptable, learn how to communicate across a language barrier, step out of my comfort zone, and learn to live in the now. Being someone who often gets wrapped up in the big picture, I hope to learn how to focus on the moment that is right in front of me and enjoy where I am at, rather than focusing on where I want to be.

Some additional goals I have for this experience are to practice and learn more Spanish, to be more open minded when it comes to people who have chosen a different path than me, to learn what goes into starting a social enterprise and the financial side of a social business, and to gain a real world perspective outside of the United States “bubble”.

I can’t wait to see what the next three weeks have in store!

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Jenée, Jazmin, Kyle, and I on our first night in Bucerías, Mexico