Olivia is a second-generation AMIGOS alum that participated in the La Costa project in Ecuador this past summer. She shared with us some of her favorite memories with AMIGOS, from making new Ecuadorian friends and practicing Spanish with them, to exploring and learning more about a South American country and its unique and lively culture.
Her dad, Jeff Hill, also participated in AMIGOS years ago in Guanajuato, Mexico. He shared with us some of his AMIGOS memories, such as waiting for letters from back home to keep in touch with his family, and what it was like to live with his special Mexican host family. He also shared with us how AMIGOS impacted his studies, career and professional visions throughout the years. Read more about Olivia and Jeff, and their warm recollection of AMIGOS summer memories!
Why did you choose to do AMIGOS? What makes this program different from other programs?
I chose to participate in AMIGOS because I wanted to do something that would impact my life and others. My dad had participated in this program and I had heard his experience and knew that this was something I wanted to do. This program is different from other programs because it allows you to immerse yourself in a culture, learn a new language, and make connections you wouldn’t make in your usual environment.
What was the biggest thing you learned from participating with AMIGOS?
The biggest thing I learned is that in order to grow, you need to take a leap out of your comfort zone. Once you do that, you are on a path for not only growth, but success. I saw this especially in my Spanish skills. I took the leap to fail, and through that I grew. I became a better communicator, and was able to engage in meaningful conversations when we were out in the community. This really changed my perspective on taking risks and overcoming adversity.
What was the most valuable relationship you created this summer?
One of the most valuable relationships I created this summer was with the teens in our program from Ecuador. It was so cool to meet and live with people who live in Ecuador and learn more about the culture and different lifestyle. I still talk with them and hope to visit them once again in the future.
Funniest memory about the experience you had?
Wow, there were so many. I would have to say one of the funniest memories I have is when we had soccer tournaments or our heated games of cards. The funniest moments were always when we weren’t doing something big, but spending time together as a pod.
Best piece of advice you’d give someone who is considering AMIGOS?
Take the leap. This program is 100% worth your time. You will make lifelong connections, develop skills that will help you throughout high school and the future, and have the incredible opportunity to learn a new language in the place where it is spoken. Trust me, you will not regret it.
What was it like to join AMIGOS after a year of virtual schooling during the pandemic?
It was so refreshing and freeing. I felt like I was able to once again enjoy life and spend time with people. I grew close with the people I spent time with and felt like I gained a second family. It was so much fun and I would not trade this experience for the world. It truly was a once in a lifetime experience.
Did your experience in the pandemic influence your goals, your desire to serve your community, travel? If so, how?
Yes, I knew that I wanted to see the world and it showed me just how precious your time on Earth is. You need to live life to the fullest and serve others. I hope to travel the world and hope to one day show my kids the world as well.
What do you think is the most important issue facing the world right now?
How can young people work toward addressing this issue? I think one of the most important issues the world is facing right now is lack of understanding of cultures. Many people make assumptions without inquiring more and trying to learn. I think the best way to work towards addressing this issue is by promoting cross-cultural communication and encouraging travel because it is hard to learn about a culture unless you experience it.
Anything else you’d like to add?
AMIGOS has really inspired me to serve my community and the world. I hope to serve in Latin America again in my future.
How did your experience with AMIGOS differ from Olivia’s?
When I was on that project, we dug latrines and gave immunizations in a small rural village. We lived with a host family in a mud floor shack. We had to wait for letters from home and care boxes rather than having our phones.
Why did you want Olivia to join AMIGOS?
I always wanted her to do it, and after COVID I thought it was an even more unique opportunity to get out there. I think it is eye opening to see Latin America and see what different levels of poverty look like compared to the US. I learned economic poverty isn’t poverty of spirit or soul, and it really showed a way to live life in a much fuller capacity than we do in the US.
What was your experience with your host family?
It was fantastic. My host father was the mayor of the ranchero and they were fantastic. One of the little boys in the town I kept in touch with up until 5 years ago. He came to the US and worked to send money back to Mexico. It was a neat experience. My partner and I really connected with our host family.
How did your experience with AMIGOS impact your future academic and career goals?
Academically, I ended up studying abroad in Austria and learning another language because of AMIGOS. As I studied, I ended up getting my degree in economics in the school of Arts and Letters at Notre Dame, so I could study development economics and have the ability to study the global economy. It was much more fulfilling. I wrote my senior thesis about economic affairs in Latin America, specifically in Honduras, where I spent the summer opening a school with three other students. It opened doors and even now I’ve gone back to Mexico comfortably to hire employees for my company now. It helped me know and understand the culture and connect with people on a different level.
What are you doing now?
I own a software company that focuses on the aging demographic.
Do you find yourself using skills you developed while abroad?
Yes, it made me comfortable with people of all social standings and recognize people are people. I also found that the common bonds you find are sometimes things you never knew going in and are found through always talking and keeping an open mind.
Why did you choose AMIGOS? What makes this program different from other programs?
I chose AMIGOS because a friend went 3 years before me and he came back raving from that experience. From that point I knew I wanted to do it. There also weren’t a lot of other opportunities to independently go out of the country and serve at the time.
What do you see as the benefit of doing these types of programs for young people?
You learn self-confidence and humility. It’s a big world with a lot of problems and you learn that maybe the problems that you perceive aren’t really that big of problems. You learn to serve and help which is a big deal. You also have culture and language immersion and learn how to respectfully immerse oneself in a culture
What advice or encouragement would you give to another parent who is considering sending their child on an AMIGOS program?
We live in an age of too much connectivity to our kids; we can find them and see them and do anything at any point in time. It is good for our kids to go out and learn they can be independent and learn they can be out in the world. As well, breaking away from your current social parameters is a huge growth experience. I had full confidence my child would never be in danger and if there was an incident that arose the staff of AMIGOS knew what to do and would take care of it.
Anything else you’d like to add?
It is a fantastic program, and I am glad my daughter was able to experience it because there were a lot of experiences that we had in high school that due to the pandemic aren’t out there anymore.