Friday, June 29, 2012

A Different Kind of Learning

On Tuesday, we went into San Jose. We went as students, and not tourists. We didn't sit in on a lecture at an embassy or a think tank, or admire San Jose's unique culture from afar. Instead, we were able to meet with HIV/AIDS patients at a shelter. We were lead through the homey building into an area of tables and chairs, where several of the patients shared their stories with us. They told us their stories; many of them have known of their HIV positive status for over twenty years, have lost lovers along the way, and have endured serious discrimination from their families as well as the Costa Rican community. The people at this shelter, despite their hardships, opened up to us right away. They told us how they had been outcasted by their families, fired from their jobs when their employers found out their HIV status, and often times discriminated against for being homosexual. They shared with us their day to day struggles, facing the deaths of their friends and living with the disease themselves. It was more of a discussion than a lecture; we learned about their lifestyle and they learned about ours.

It was then that I realized, visits like this one are what studying abroad is all about. Yes, it's about seeing the countryside and getting to know the wildlife. Yes, it's about learning from the country's best teachers, and of course it's about getting to immerse ones self in a culture different from there own. That is what we did at the shelter. The majority of us had had very little exposure to the struggle of HIV/AIDS patients prior to this visit, and by the end of the discussion we had gotten to know a slice of culture that largely goes unseen in Costa Rica. At multiple times during the lecture I felt myself getting goosebumps, and being truly inspired by what these people had to say. They were all adamant about pursuing their goals, even in the face of animosity. As people who would some day also like to change the world, the Global Scholars had a lot to learn from the people living at the shelter; twenty years of hardships and they hadn't lost sight of their own personal power to change things, nor had they given up the fight. They were truly inspirational and helped put things back into perspective. For the people living at the shelter, giving up without a fight isn't an option- and it shouldn't be for any of us either. We can change things, and that's what we're aiming to do as students.

-Kelly Mertz

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