You might be reading the AMIGOS blog wondering, “Why should I do AMIGOS?” And I’m glad you asked. Quite honestly, some of the best journeys of our life start with asking the right questions. For Lauren Antosz, AMIGOS 2011 participant in Nicaragua, that question was “what is Shakira saying in ‘Hips Don’t Lie’?” This famous Latina singer from Barranquilla, Colombia sings many songs with a mix of English and Spanish and if you don’t learn Spanish then her songs are no more than catchy tunes. Thus, Lauren began to study Spanish at Northside College Prep in Chicago, IL. Little did she know, 5 years later she would be awarded a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to spend the first step of her post-grad life in Chile working with impoverished teen programs at Fundación Cerro Navia Joven.
Like many of our AMIGOS participants, Lauren first learned about AMIGOS in a class presentation. She says:
“I had the option of the Spanish class trip to Spain during Spring Break, or an AMIGOS summer. I knew the experience of AMIGOS would be so much more valuable than a week long vacation. I really wanted to get out of my comfort zone, improve my Spanish, and immerse myself into a different culture and country.”
Lauren certainly found that she embraced AMIGOS’ challenge to “Get out of your element” because when I asked her about a memorable time in Nicaragua, she recalled:
“There are so many highlights and memories from my time in Nicaragua it is hard to choose. However, I would have to say hearing a toilet flush in the community for the first time in five weeks. The community I lived in had little electricity and no indoor plumbing. One day while walking to the house of a family we would be sharing dinner with, my partner and I stumbled across a large vacation house in the mountains. It was enormous and better decorated than my house in the US. The homeowner wasn’t there, but the community member that lived next door gave us a tour. I hadn’t heard a toilet flush, and hearing it seemed so surreal. This may sound crazy, but I was so comfortable using the latrine I hadn’t even thought about a bathroom. I learned that I was capable of adjusting to, and embracing a new way of life that was different from my own.”
Fast forward three years to 2014 and I meet Lauren in a preparation meeting for studying abroad in Chile. We had both elected to take a course called Pobreza y Desarrollo (Poverty and Development) in which we would learn about development in Chile and perform service work among the impoverished neighborhoods of Santiago in addition to our regular courses. I distinctly remember Lauren telling stories of some sort of previous experience in Nicaragua and noting that she already had some incredible insight into the work we were preparing to do. It wasn’t until I took a job with AMIGOS that I made the connection between her experience with AMIGOS and the passionate amiga that I got to know at Notre Dame. In realizing that Lauren’s story essentially went from AMIGOS to Notre Dame to a future in international development with the Fulbright program, I was eager to know if AMIGOS had anything to do with connecting her narrative.
So I asked Lauren: “Did your AMIGOS experience affect what you wanted to get out of college? If so, what?” And she said:
“My AMIGOS experience affected my decisions in college tremendously. I knew I wanted to continue practicing my Spanish, learning about and living new cultural experiences, and working on community-based development projects. Development as a word means so many things to different groups of people, I wanted to learn about those many definitions to be able to positively contribute to the development of others.”
In fact, Lauren was successful at getting into Notre Dame where she studied Spanish with minors in International Development and Poverty Studies. Thus her path was distinctly tied to her AMIGOS origins. While at Notre Dame, she not only studied abroad in Santiago, Chile for five months in the fall of 2014, but she returned for the following summer to do research for her minors. Both times, she worked with Fundación Cerro Navia Joven in which she researched what kind of sexual and reproductive education the adolescent mothers in the community received and formed relationships with young mothers in Cerro Navia.
After all of that I wondered, “Have/How have your Latin American experiences changed you or your worldviews?” To which she explained:
“My Latin American experiences have made me more conscious of the differences in the world. I have a better understanding of the privileges I have as an America. I am more sensitive to the different cultural practices of others, and I know that my perspective isn’t the only one and may not necessarily be the ‘right one.’”
Since Lauren’s year with Fulbright doesn’t start until spring of 2017, she has returned back to where she started in Chicago to assist in this cycle of AMIGOS recruitment efforts. So, why is Lauren still involved in AMIGOS?
“I am still involved with AMIGOS this fall because I believe the program is the only one of its kind to give young people the opportunity to experience a new culture in the most authentic way possible. It gets youth out of their comfort zone, opens their eyes to another way of life, and hopefully inspires them to be global citizens.”
So congratulations Lauren! AMIGOS is proud of our alumni and their continued commitment to our mission. Our Chicago chapters are lucky to have you in their corner this year!
– Erin Aucar, AMIGOS Regional Outreach Coordinator