April 12, 2015

The first stamp in my passport is from June 10, 2009. I got it when, at sixteen, I landed in Managua, Nicaragua, for my first summer as an AMIGOS participant – or volunteer, as we were known then. At the time, I had a hiking backpack full of khaki pants, a head full of dreams, and not much else. I was all aimless energy and no direction, all big hopes with no idea how to follow through with them.

A lot has changed since then.

The most recent stamp in my passport reads 09 ABR 2015, also from Nicaragua. Three days ago, I touched down in Managua for my first meeting as one of the Project Staff Representatives to the AMIGOS International Board of Directors, and now, less than 72 hours later, I’m back in the States, still slightly reeling from the whirlwind experience (and possibly my chaotic travel schedule).

In a lot of ways, this meeting was similar to my first AMIGOS summer. I was wide-eyed and enthusiastic; I did a lot of listening and taking things in; and, despite my preparation, I had very little idea of what to expect going into it.

Board RetreatLuckily, sunsets are beautiful no matter how clueless you are.
Let me tell you: the view from the hotel beat the view from my dorm room any day.

This time around, however, instead of trying to learn about Nicaraguan culture and understand how to be an effective youth leader, I was learning what it means to sit on a board and the kinds of considerations that an organization like AMIGOS has to make in order to function as it does. But I wasn’t just there to learn: as a representative of Project Staff, I am responsible for helping to provide a link between our perspectives as staff on the ground and the operations of the board. Luckily, I’m not alone in this role, and am supported in doing so. Still, it’s a pretty big charge for a twenty-something who hasn’t even graduated yet.

Okay, so maybe when I boarded that plane on Thursday I felt the familiar flutter of butterflies that young, volunteer Caroline felt when she left Miami for Managua that first time.

In the end, though, I needn’t have worried.

Yeah, it was a lot to take in. (I’m still getting used to conference calls being a regular part of my life.) There was a lot of information – I just about filled my tiny notebook with poorly scribbled notes that range from questions (“board matrix?”) to definitions (ask me what a SWOT analysis is) to exclamations (“appropriate media use!”). I spent a lot of time trailing behind the other Project Staff Rep to the Board, Libby, who’s been at this for a year longer than I have, and asking her a lot of (probably annoying) questions.

But it was also a lot more fun than I expected – I don’t know how I always forget how much I love hanging out with other AMIGOS and talking about this incredible organization. I was impressed and reassured by how much the board members seemed truly interested in hearing my perspective, as well as just generally making me feel welcome. It reminded me that it doesn’t matter if you’re a well-established white-haired board member, an as-of-yet occupation-less undergrad like myself, or anywhere in between: we’re all in this because we really believe in what we do, and because we know that young people can do some pretty incredible things when you give them the space and the opportunity to do so.
Moving forward, I want to hold onto that collective energy and carry it forward into this summer and beyond. Some of our older promotional materials use the tagline “el mundo necesita más AMIGOS” (in English: “the world needs more AMIGOS”) and after this weekend there’s nothing that resonates with me more. The world needs more AMIGOS – more people from all over the Americas (and the world!) who understand the transformative power of youth, and who are willing to invest the time and the effort to make sure that opportunities exist for these young leaders to challenge themselves and grow together in a cross-cultural context. Because when you get those people together, like we did this weekend, the outcomes are pretty dang exciting.
*Yes, I realize that I already used this joke today, but cut me some slack – I have travel brain and it’s the best I could come up with.


For more on Caroline’s journey, please feel free to read the following blog posts:

2013 Project Supervisor Reflection

2014 Project Supervisor Reflection