This past summer I was an Amigos participant in Oaxaca, Mexico. It was definitely nerve wracking to get on a plane and not truly know my destination (you aren't placed in a community until you arrive in country), but the few moments of fear were well worth it.
I was placed in the Valles Centrales region of Oaxaca, about 40 minutes from Oaxaca City. I imagine my community was the most urbanized out of all other placements as it was a small town with many little businesses and a daily market. The project staff actually chose to hold mid-term in my community because of the access to internet cafes.
Honestly, I cried almost every day for the first week because I so desperately wanted to be in the mountains. I suppose I thought there was little I could do to impact the people of my community. In fact, I still often wonder just how much impact my partners and I had on the people we met. But at the same time, I do think we successfully instilled the values of Amigos-- empowering youth to become leaders in their community.
The emphasis put on collaboration with locals is definitely a plus for the program; teenagers are not necessarily professionals in public health. The local nutritionists, however, do know a thing or two about healthy cooking with the native grain amaranth. Collaboration also allows participants to make friends and truly immerse themselves in the language and culture of their country. One of my favorite memories is the day my local vol took me to the market to try tejate, a drink made from cocoa. It quickly became a new favorite!
As a participant, you'll learn to expect the unexpected. I had a lot of curve balls thrown my way, but Amigos has established an incredible support system for helping participants deal with stress and other problems that arise while living in a new culture.
I don't think anyone had a perfect summer, but I think we all grew in unimaginable ways. I personally have a lot more confidence in both my problem-solving abilities and myself as a whole. Oaxaca will always hold a special place in my heart as it's where some of my strongest friendships were formed.