Maren is a two-time AMIGOS alum and will serve as a Project Supervisor this summer in the Dominican Republic. Here, she reflects on how she got involved in AMIGOS and the impact it had on her life.
When I first traveled to Panamá as an AMIGOS participant in 2015, it was for all the wrong reasons.
I felt compelled to follow in the footsteps of my sister and my cousin, who had volunteered with AMIGOS in previous years. I wanted to prove that I could do anything they could do, so I acted as if I wasn’t terrified. I figured I’d have a tough few months, but I had to get through it in order to assure myself of my worthiness.
By the time arrived in Llano de Piedras, I was resigned to the worst. I was afraid I’d have trouble connecting with my host family, lose weight, and get sick. I thought I would be incredibly homesick. I clung to the idea that the value of AMIGOS came after the experience, when I’d be able to reflect and tell stories.
This mindset held strong for the first few weeks of my stay. I’d wake up in the morning and mentally check off another day until I could go home. Despite my homesickness and loneliness, however, I was quickly surprised by how comfortable I felt adjusting to Panamanian life. I got used to shouting “Buenas,” to greet friends and strangers alike. I built personal relationships with nearly everyone I came across. I developed a passion for mangoes and grape nut ice cream. To my disbelief, I was having an excellent time. To my greater disbelief, when I returned home I missed everything about my AMIGOS summer desperately. Telling stories, which I expected to enjoy immensely, was frustrating for me. People wanted to hear about my great misadventures, like the time I got really sick or the time I got a terrible haircut. No one wanted to hear about how nice it was to walk to the store for the express purpose of chatting with the cashier, or wake up to my host grandmother’s perpetual smile. The things that had made my experience so wonderful didn’t make good stories; they were simply memories that faded far faster than I wanted them to.
Recently, a classmate explained to me the difference between “Type One Fun” and “Type Two Fun.” Type One is something that is fun while you are doing it, and Type Two is something that is fun when you think about it afterwards. Before Panamá, I thought of AMIGOS as unmistakably Type Two Fun; really challenging, but as soon as you’re on the other side you appreciate it. When I signed up to travel to the Dominican Republic with AMIGOS the next summer, however, it was no longer because I felt driven to prove myself. I’d already done that. My time in Panamá had not been Type Two fun. Rather, it had been enjoyable in the moment as well as enjoyable to think about afterwards. I came back to AMIGOS to have a great time and making lasting friendships. That mission was easily accomplished. This summer, as I prepare to supervise, I hope my participants will have as much Type One Fun as I have had. If my experiences are any indicator, it shouldn’t be hard.