I was a participant in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2014. I knew very little Spanish when I arrived. Despite my language shortcomings, my host family remained patient with me. We learned to communicate through playing cards, doing magic tricks, and other fun bonding experiences. My Spanish improved over time and by the end of the summer I could even make jokes in Spanish!
I have worked with several volunteer abroad organizations, and Amigos by far has the best safety element. There is an on-call emergency response team available 24/7 a supervisor that spends 24 hours in your community every week and escorts you to the clinic when you're sick, a list of behavioral standards to abide by with your safety in mind (no riding motorcycles, or other dangerous behavior).
One thing that really makes Amigos stand out compared to other volunteer organizations, is the rigorous training that participants go through before departing for their summer. You build skills such as how to facilitate activities and how to hold community meetings, so that you can be useful in supporting the community once you arrive.
Amigos was my first time using my Spanish and my first time out of the U.S. Needless to say, I was scared. However, by being bold and getting out of my comfort zone, I realized that I am capable of doing anything. By intentionally pushing my personal boundaries to pursue relationships with people, I realized that they are neither as scary nor judgmental as I had worried. While they did chuckle at my alien accent, I learned to accept their reactions as opportunities to laugh at myself and as indicators for where I can work on self-improvement. In addition, I became more welcoming of others who differ from me. After being trusted to lead a development project in a foreign country in a foreign tongue, I really do feel like I can do anything.
In addition, the leadership ladder at Amigos is amazing. In 3 years, I have climbed the leadership ladder from participant, to volunteer trainer, to full-time trainer, and now this summer I will be a project supervisor. I look forward to continuing to climb this ladder, whether that be in the form of project director, on-call staff, or any of the other numerous opportunities Amigos provides for young people.