A fortunate decision to open a weekly email newsletter introduced me to AMIGOS International and a job posting that sought a new Regional Outreach Recruitment Coordinator for the East Coast. All I saw were buzzwords like Latin America, leadership, youth, service, cultural exchange, and education…I was sold.
As I began to interview, accept, and begin my position as the new Regional Outreach Recruitment Coordinator, and attempted to explain the organization to my friends, I found that it was more complex than the simple buzzwords that attracted me in the first place. At this point I confess that I am not an AMIGOS alum. Despite previous service-learning experiences where I lived very simplistically or a 5-month immersive study abroad experience in Chile, I lacked the inside familiarity of an AMIGOS alumni participant As passionate as I was about their mission, considering I had never participated in AMIGOS I realized that it was going to take a lot of questions and experience to even begin to understand how this program worked on a technical level.
Wrapping up my nearly three weeks of training I am going to share with you my initial thoughts and questions as an AMIGOS newcomer working her way to the inside. Hopefully if you are confused, conflicted, or equally new to the AMIGOS world, you will be able to better understand AMIGOS by the end of this post. **spoiler alert** AMIGOS is awesome, unique, and transformative.
Chapters versus National Office…what?
Amidst the website links and organization lingo I saw the process distinguished by the terms “chapter” and “national office” but had no idea what that really implied. What I learned was that a majority of AMIGOS participate in our programs through one of the 24 chapters nationwide. These chapters function as separate non-profits under our greater AMIGOS umbrella. The implications of choosing one route versus another can depend on a variety of factors including the date that you apply, your flexibility with the training schedule and preferences for fundraising.
● Chapter route:
○ Training: facilitated by the chapter board over several weeks/months (i.e. every other sunday for a few weeks).
○ Fundraising: families are required to pay a smaller amount of the total on their own and in turn, all chapter participants are required to fundraise the remaining portion together.
○ Dates: application deadlines vary by chapter but typically happen between September through December.
● National Office route:
○ Training: 4 days of intense (read: intensely fun!) training in Houston prior to departure for Latin America
○ Fundraising: you are responsible for paying the full amount but will receive a great toolkit for fundraising if you so choose. The sooner you start the better!
○ Dates: you can still apply through the national office well into the spring if you didn’t apply through your chapter in the fall.
How is it actually set up in country?
It took me the longest time and having a few diagrams shown to me to begin picturing the in-country project structure but this is what I have come to figure out:
● Senior staff and supervisors stay in a staff house in a larger city surrounded by smaller communities.
● Each supervisor oversees 8-10 participants and those participants are spread out among 4-5 communities (2-3 participants per community).
● Supervisors walk among the communities and visit one per day to check in on the participants and attend to their physical and mental health and support them throughout the summer.
There’s a leadership ladder? Tell me more.
One of the coolest things I learned about AMIGOS is that they promote leadership opportunities and growth, then put their money where their mouth is. Not only do they run an incredible leadership experience through their summer and gap programs, but they provide a multitude of ways to exercise that leadership within the organization once you return. Alumni participants have the opportunity to join their chapter boards to serve as training directors, recruitment coordinators, etc… OR you can even return and serve as a supervisor the next summer FOR FREE. If you keep climbing the leadership ladder you can even obtain a paid position as a project director or assistant project director on a project. What. A. Deal.
How immersive is AMIGOS?
The AMIGOS programs puts participants in groups of twos or threes in small rural communities with host families where they are really put to the test with their Spanish. That can sound intense, but participants will be amazed at how much they grow when it becomes necessary to get out of their element!
So basically AMIGOS is insane right?
Yes. AMIGOS is kind of insane. But as Alice in Wonderland once said “[they’re] entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.” AMIGOS does not settle for anything but the best, most challenging, engaging, and empowering experience. Moreover, AMIGOS is impressively committed to the health & safety of their participants. AMIGOS has been around for 50 years and they have seen it all. So they prepare for it all and they stick to their guidelines and standards to make sure that they are consistently fostering a safe and successful program.
Can high school students really handle this?
YES. Admittedly, even as I sat through training I felt a bit overwhelmed of what was expected. Yet, by the end of National Office training, I was blown away by the insight, awareness, and motivation of all the youth participating. AMIGOS attracts incredible youth who only become that much stronger after just a few weeks in the field. I have no doubt that after seeing just a handful of the participants who will join our 27,000 AMIGOS alumni, these youth can not only handle the summer, they’ll fulfill AMIGOS’ call to be catalysts for social change.
My experience in Latin America was truly transformative, but if I had heard of AMIGOS and had the chance to be a part of that four years early I would have jumped on it without a doubt. I might have found the AMIGOS family a little late, but better late than never, right? Here’s to a new adventure!
Erin Aucar (bottom left), Regional Outreach Coordinator, Washington D.C.