It was Summer 2015. I was packing for my first summer abroad where I would be doing an internship to complete my master’s degree. It was July 4th and I was traveling alone on an international flight for the first time to Medellin, Colombia. It seemed so surreal to leave the U.S. on a holiday that was so special – not only to our nation but to me as well. Since I was a child, I’ve always enjoyed the holiday. At the time, I hadn’t fully recognized the depth of what the holiday meant for the nation. However, I made my own meaning and memories each year. Many of those childhood memories are still vivid in my mind and lasting in my heart. As I get older, time spent means more to me – especially time with family and friends.
Independence Day in Colombia
I arrived in Medellin, Colombia on the Fourth of July, 2015. It was a Saturday afternoon and I was absolutely terrified. This Independence Day wasn’t going to be one that I had ever experienced. I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into. I felt extremely excited to be there.
At the same time, I also felt the bottomless questions bubbling up in my mind. They all began with “what if…” This was in part because of the rumors I had heard about the city: “It’s a drug town!” and, “You are going to get killed!” I was also scared of not letting go of myself – or having freedom. I wanted the freedom to just be. So, there I was on the Fourth of July, in another country, not knowing how to be free because I was terrified.
I didn’t know how to speak the language very well (yet). Whatever I did know was being stifled because of fear. I was inhibiting my own chance at success because of fear. I took a deep breath and walked downstairs in the airport. The front desk security guard looked at me and I looked at him. We both said, “hola,” and “hello,” at the same time. He started rapping at me in Spanish so fast that I couldn’t get my mind fixated on what I wanted to ask him. I smiled and quickly said, “¡Gracias!”
I was tired from my flight and started to think, what should I ask next? How do I get groceries? Where is the closest place to buy food? Where am I? Who am I? What’s my name? Suddenly things that I thought I knew how to ask for in Spanish weren’t coming to mind! All that practice with Lee, my tutor, before I left came flashing in front of me. I could see Lee! I could see him saying, “¿Donde esta la tienda?”
No matter how much I wanted to, I couldn’t say it! Why was I feeling this helpless? Not to mention, I felt completely clueless. The airport driver dropped me off in front of my building. He said I would have an event later that day… I never thought I would have felt so clueless! Evelio the receptionist and security guard, the man who wore two hats (arguably three or four) and I were just staring at one another. We were lost in translation. I looked at him and said, “hasta luego,” and waved. He looked at me and gave me a smile.
Luckily, later that evening there was a barbeque with a group of the interns. Here, I would meet and speak with others from around the world. I soon found out that I wasn’t the only one who felt a bit nervous. Nevertheless, I was the only intern working on her master’s and in her 30s. But, that didn’t stop me from making new friends.
On a Quest of Independence
Pause… stop. I met my soon-to-be best friend at this barbeque. This is history: an Independence Day historical moment. I not only was on a quest for independence in my own right, but I also met one of the dearest people in that process. I didn’t know it at the time, but my holiday away from home in Medellin would soon be the beginning of a very special friendship. Now, every year around the Fourth of July (or close to it), it represents a symbolic anniversary for our friendship. A day of courage, a day of personal freedom, of national freedom, and of the joining of two very different people on the journey of a lifetime. Luis and I are forever friends joined by the epic lifetime event in both our lives – a summer internship abroad in Medellin, Colombia.