This blog post was originally presented to CGEE staff as a thank you letter. We were very touched by Stephanie’s experience, and wanted to share with others. Posted here with permission from the author, Stephanie Gonzales-Pérez. The words have not been altered in any way.
I wanted to take the time to extend my gratitude through this letter. I am a recent alum of the CGEE Central America Program of Spring 2016. The program itself was truly life changing and as cliché as that may sound there are no other words to better describe it.
The mission of your programs is to give us another lens and to decolonize our minds which is a prime reason why I was interested in the program. Along with the constant recommendation from my study abroad advisor, Ann Butwell. Which is why I want to thank Berea College and Augsburg’s Center for Global Education and Experience because without all your help this would not have been possible. I was hesitant at first because of the cost, but both institutions provided me with scholarships that reduced the cost to nearly nothing.
Aside from how perfect the program already was due to my passion for social justice I was also drawn in because the program went to Guatemala specifically to Quetzaltenango, or also known as Xela, which is where my maternal grandmother lives. I had told my family about my trip and they were beyond ecstatic to finally meet in person after only having contact through letters, phone calls and Skype my entire life. I will be honest I had originally planned to go in the spring of 2015, but I felt guilty going and backed out because my mother has not seen my grandmother for over 25 years and it didn’t feel right to go before she did. My mother had the chance to return home; however, she made the ultimate sacrifice when I was 10 and that was not to move back to Guatemala with my father. She knew that the United States could provide us with more opportunities than her own country could.
I thank God every day for my mother’s bravery and selflessness for without that decision I would not be pursuing a degree in higher education, I would have not found Berea College, and ultimately I honestly do not think I would had considered going to study abroad. I confessed the guilt I felt to my mother and she assured me that nothing would make her happier than to know that a little piece of her would bring such joy to my grandmother.
It felt so surreal when we landed in Guatemala for this was the land my family called home, and I now was given the opportunity to walk the streets that they all once did as children. I literally felt that I was keeping a huge secret for no one in the program knew that my intentions was to meet my extended family. I truly did not have any expectations and would have been content to simply be embraced in their arms even if it was for that moment. I was uncertain to ask for all these accommodations especially since we had just landed, but I personally want to thank Ruth. I confided in her and she said that she would do everything possible in order to communicate with others in order for me to have permission to live with my grandmother for my homestay. I also thank Kathy for taking the time to ask about my experience when I arrived in Nicaragua.
Overall, I thank everyone who played a part in allowing me to stay with my grandmother; I am forever in debt to you all. Not only did I get to meet my grandmother but I was able to see my aunts, uncles, and cousin. Being able to enjoy dinner together and talk hours with them as if we had never been apart. This dream that I have kept since my infancy was now a reality and with the realization that patience is key. There are definitely no accidents in life and there is a reason for everything. I say this because the timing was perfect for January 20th has and will forever hold a special place in my heart. For it was not only the date of when I saw my grandmother, but it is also her birthday.