By Caroline Bybee, Senior Project Supervisor – Paraguay
August 21, 2014

As we liked to say back at Staff House in Carapeguá, “Ay qué wow.”

Another summer with AMIGOS has come and gone, and more so than ever I feel that this year it flew by before I could realize that it was gone. It still doesn’t really feel like it’s over – my computer’s desktop is still littered with evaluations, facilitation guides (or as we lovingly called them, fac-packs), and solicitudes. Still, I definitely know that I’m no longer in Paraguay when I accidentally slip a little Spanish (mirá un poco!) into my everyday conversations and am met with blank stares, or when I try to retell stories (and then Rachel fell off the bus!!) that fall flat due to the lack of context.

In case you were wondering what Rachel was wearing when she fell off the bus. Or, idk, if you wanted to see a picture of my staff

It’s hard. I’m a sappy soul who always struggles with transitions – I have this tendency to weave people so tightly into my life that good-byes feel like a fundamental violation of my being, and even though I didn’t cry when I left P-Guay this time, I did spend the plane ride vacillating between uneasy sleep and somber pondering of what this summer has meant to me. I landed in Houston and blearily dove right back into the swing of things; I spent less than 48 hours in my hometown before somewhat frenetically loading up my car and driving here to Ohio. (I also may or may not have had a minor meltdown sprawled across a pile of clothing and books intended for my green plastic storage bins.)

While being back in college is great (senior year!) and I’m so excited to begin anew, to start my senior research project, and to see my beloved friends after three long months (or more), it’s still a strange and often difficult gearshift from my life on AMIGOS to my life as a College of Wooster student.
Let me explain.

I have often maintained (as one of my many corny, AMIGOS-related platitudes) that AMIGOS works because it’s genuine. Sure, we write Full Value Contracts and do weekly check-ins and say things like, “How can I support you better in your personal growth?” and on the surface it might all sound very fake and even forced. We talk about big ideas like empowerment and leadership development and sustainability so much that it has to the potential to sound like lip-service. But that’s the great thing about AMIGOS, the things that I really and truly love about it (inter alia). It’s genuine.

Every time this summer when I asked one of our Supervisors how I could support them, I meant it, and I know the same goes for my other Senior Staff members, who did the same to me. These cheesy phrases become our go-to, and it works because they’re so sincere. Amig@s, at least in my experience, are the kind of people who really and truly do care about your physical and emotional health, about your own empowerment, about your leadership potential and how well it’s being nurtured. That’s why it works. We make tongue-in-cheek jokes (“Do we need to debrief that bus ride?”) and poke fun at ourselves and our language, but in the end, we care, and we believe in what we’re doing.How else could support and hopefully empower great gaggles of insightful (sometimes cheeky) teenagers, manage chaotic and involved project logistics, and coordinate, collaborate, and bond with partner agencies and host communities? It’s because we believe – or, at least I know that I do, and I can confidentially guess that my fellow staffers feel the same way – in what we’re doing, and in its value.

(That’s not to say, of course, that we drank the Kool-aid to the point that we’re afraid to criticize or change things. I had so many conversations this summer that challenged both me as a person and my way of thinking about AMIGOS, and for those I am thankful. It is through this open inquiry, discussion, and readjustment that we learn and grow, and I was excited to be a part of it this summer.)

It’s hard to leave that environment behind, because out here in the real world, my enthusiasm and sincerity might be taken as sarcasm or insincerity. My suggestions of chore wheels and participatory evaluations could be taken as patronizing, and my offers to debrief situations might overwhelm or turn people off.

Luckily, jumping pictures are universal.

And so, as always, re-entry is a process of re-negotiation. How do I take the parts of me that changed, the new things that I learned, and integrate them into who I am here, in the USA, with my friends and family, in my classes, at my College, writing my thesis or shopping at the grocery store? How do I translate my sincerity into something more appropriate and understandable for the context in which I am now living?
I’m not really sure that I know the answer yet.

But AMIGOS has also taught me to forge ahead even when I don’t feel ready – because if I wait to do anything until I’m 100% ready, I’ll do nothing. Better, then, to press forward, ask questions, and learn on the go. I know that I’ll find support, friends, and laughter along the way; AMIGOS has also taught me that. To keep on keeping on, and to keep on learning in the process.

Así que there you have it; some anxiety, some excitement, and lots of sincerity as I head off into the next chapter of my life. Chau for now – sorry I didn’t stay as up to date on this blog as I would have liked, but believe me when I say that it was a summer full of adventures, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.