I’ve been back in Upstate New York for seven months, and not a day goes by where I don’t think about El Salvador. My stay was five weeks, and split between an internship with Foundation Cristosal and Spanish language classes at the CIS. Just last week, one of my graduate courses assigned me to bring an “object that represents climate to you” to class that describes a place where the work climate was very positive and the leadership was strong. I brought my backpack I purchased at the CIS because I can think of no other organization I’ve been involved with that so strongly values its mission (solidarity and exchange) and the experience each individual has there. For starters, the CIS staff is unbelievably dedicated. My teacher Wilmer spent a week riding miles on his bike just to get to our class (for which at that point, I was his only student) when the public transit system was shut down in a paro forzado. Everyone was so welcoming, patient, and kind at the CIS. On my final day, they even had a going away party with snacks, certificates and gifts! When I tell people about the CIS, I often say that I learned more Spanish in five weeks there than I did in six years of language classes in the United States. If you want to learn Spanish quickly and correctly, look no further than the CIS!
Additionally, the host family the CIS connected me with was absolutely wonderful. Roberto, Ivonne, and their children made me feel so welcome, fed me the most delicious food, and made sure that if I was feeling under the weather that I was comfortable. I still keep in touch with them, and really appreciated having a family to stay with that made me feel so welcome in their home.
Outside of the classes, highlights of my time with the CIS included the trip to the University of El Salvador when we were learning about the massacre of 1975, and a trip to Cinquera. The trip to UES was really special because it allowed me to see what college life is like in El Salvador compared to my own experience, and learn about how passionate the students at this institution still are about social justice. It was really amazing to be there on the anniversary date of the massacre and participate in the activities (performances, poetry readings, and art displays) the students put on. The trip to Cinquera was a weekend trip that included a hike in the cloud forest, visits to an iguana farm and artisan jeweler’s shop, and a trip to a nearby town to commemorate the 1984 massacre that happened there. On the anniversary of the massacre, our group, along with several dozen townspeople, marched on the main road to the town chanting, singing, and holding candles. To me, Cinquera was the perfect representation of solidarity and taught me so much more about the history of El Salvador, its politics, the Civil War, and the true compassion Salvadorans have for their country, ancestors, and one another.
So needless to say, I’m pretty passionate about El Salvador because of my experience with the CIS. When I encourage friends to go, one of the first responses I always get is nervousness about the security situation in the country. I can say with complete confidence that I never felt in danger in my time there. I simply did as I was told by the Salvadorans who live there – try not to travel alone, don’t travel with valuables, don’t wear flashy jewelry, use taxis at night…etc. - the same safety precautions I use at home. I know that reading the news can definitely make you anxious to go (I know it did for myself and my family before I got there) but missing out on such an enriching experience for something that won’t be an issue if you adhere to the guidelines would be a huge loss. The CIS makes sure that you are safe, have a good experience, and learn a lot about this amazing and beautiful country. I can’t wait for my next opportunity to return to El Salvador and work with the wonderful people at the CIS!