Global Service Scholar: Daisy Licon
Country: Paraguay

My time spent in Paraguay went by far too quickly, likely because of working alongside the nonprofit Fundación Paraguaya and the other Global Service Scholars was a pleasure. In all those long days we spent waking up at 5:30 a.m. and finishing work at 7 p.m., I was so busy that I never gave any thought to how my reintegration into life at home would be. 

Unsurprisingly, I left Paraguay with the motivation to move oceans with my teammates, but found myself lying in my bed miles away from them feeling quite incomplete. These girls really taught me how to work alongside others, how to complement our skills, live in the moment and not take anything for granted. Similarly, the students and staff of Cerrito Agricultural School taught me to see the beauty in the little things and to trust in the power that people have in creating change. However, none of that could have been possible had I not learned the value of sharing my vulnerability and creating a space for others to feel comfortable doing so as well. 

In conducting our project with Fundación Paraguaya it was necessary that we speak to students, parents and teachers one on one. That was not a simple task, seeing as we were in an entirely different culture and we had to mind our tone and diction all whilst trying to not switch between English and Spanish. As a team we had established the importance of group ice-breakers and introductions, but it took some individual trial and error to perfect our way of conversing. In my experience, compliments and affirmations had been what works when getting people to feel at ease and comfortable starting a conversation. However, that did not work in my favor in Paraguay.

Soon enough I learned that it took being vulnerable to allow them to feel even more at ease. An example of this would be explaining to the students that I too am bilingual like them and at times have difficulty finding the right words to use in our second language. Or, when speaking to the parents, telling them how I would not judge their level of education because, if anything, they were very similar to my parents who only had an elementary school education. 

One day, I had the most wonderful experience speaking to a parent who had been timid for most of her interview. As she spoke to us, a few of her concerns as a teacher peaked their way to the surface. She spoke about inclusion, diversity and a passion for higher education. The more we inquired about these, the more she opened up. By the end of our conversation, she was telling us all about her children, her drive for teaching and her educational achievements. At the start of our conversation, I would have never expected us to get to this point, where she was openly telling us so much about her life growing up and the struggles she has gone through to get where she is. It was such a beautiful sight to witness and be a part of.

The following day, I commented on this to Martín Burt and he spoke to me about a fiber. He insisted that every person has a fiber that fuels them, that it is this energy within them that drives them. He spoke about it so deeply and continued that it takes empathy and compassion to hear the fiber, but once it is identified, those with the skill to find it can begin to unravel the depths of any being. In that moment, I knew this was exactly what we had tapped into with the teacher. It drove me to fully understand the power of discriminative listening and active listening. 

Following this wisdom, I began to see shifts in my behaviors with all other relationships in my immediacy. I longed for connections with my teammates on a new level, developed an ear for student’s parent’s fiber, and persisted in fostering an attitude of open mindedness around those who I came in contact with. This is by far one of the deepest lessons I learned especially because of how applicable I know it is for my life in general regardless of my choice in career. In general, I know that practicing this technique abroad has allowed me to feel more comfortable talking to a wide range of people, thus, increasing my confidence in going into a public health domain. My knowledge gained from my experiences in Paraguay will continue with me far longer than the trip itself, as will the relationships that I have built alongside wonderful people.