I write this small collection of notes for a couple reasons, but first I admit that I am neither a writer nor photographer, simply a restless soul. I started this blog most importantly because of the troubling work it is to sort through an ever aging memory trying to recreate real moments from misty shadows. Second, considering that the amount of time I’m spending abroad, it wouldn’t be nice leave my friends and family behind as I seemingly disappear from the face of the world, since those are the people who shaped me into who I am today. As an attempt to show the gratefulness I have towards you, I’ll try to log my growth precisely and honestly so none of you are frightened if I return a different person.
To clarify what I’ll be doing in the next eleven months, I’ll begin with The Rhyme—logistic plans of when and where. I plan to be studying with Whitworth University at their Costa Rica campus during the spring of 2013 (Costa Rica Campus). There I'll be taking classes in Spanish, international politics, biology, Core (a worldview-based class), and learning at an internship while living with a host family. During this time I hope to connect the world and the classroom in addition to being completely tossed out of my comfort-zone and immersed in my second language, Spanish.
The following summer, I plan to be volunteering at the same campus in Costa Rica, living on campus and volunteering with whatever work might need to be done. I’m incredibly thankful for this opportunity as it will not only save me insane amounts of money, but also will push my limits of independence and cultural understanding.
In the fall I plan (although won’t know my acceptance status with complete certainty until February) to study in Valparaíso, Chile through a program called International Student Exchange Program (ISEP). At the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso I will be taking classes solely in Spanish and hope to study Chilean politics, culture, and literature, with perhaps a French class on the side (PUCV English Homepage). There I will also be staying with a host family while learning the beautiful, rapid-fire Chilean Spanish. This brings the entire trip to eleven months, as I'll return for Christmas break of 2013. As far as luggage is concerned, I'll be carrying all my belongings for eleven months in a backpack and suitcase.
I realize that three paragraphs of planned adventure may seem like bragging or conceited privilege, so it feels necessary to include The Reason. My reason for travelling is not out of selfishness, but an unreachable itch. It seems I’ve clashed with the American version of “knowing.” In the U.S., the more facts (useful or not) that we have stored in our heads is called “knowledge,” but often at the loss of experience or realistic understanding. At the loss of truly living. I find my head nodding in agreement at the line by Puerto Rican rapper Calle 13 “No me regalen más libros porque no los leo. Lo que he aprendido es porque lo veo” (La Vuelta Al Mundo). This line captures a frustration that has grown in me since entering the university, that what I read in books is only a poor reflection of this globalizing, pulsing, breathing world with which I am fascinated.
I’m not leaving to go party on a tropical beach, nor am I a Captain America hoping to save the world with romantic, misinformed zeal. I’m simply a curious youth who takes more out of conversation and ambiguity than an online book of 300 pages. It’s one thing to have an open mind, but another to have open arms. Opening one’s mind is relatively safe, and often this “opening” is subject to a strict code that dares not venture too far outside the box. Opening one’s arms allows for discomfort, awkward situations, and rejection. Opening arms is risky, but genuine; “organic,” if you will.
Well, I’m new to this blog thing and writing so much about myself makes me uncomfortable. Before closing this entry there’s one more thing that should be said. I’m not a completed person, but rather one that’s being reshaped daily. One of the most influential lines I’ve found says, “The only thing I know is that I know nothing.” This phrase is a reminder that I write not only for the reader, but for the writer as well. As I’m shaped by new cultures and experiences this space will be crucial in understanding the daily newness. I welcome the unknown with arms spread wide, and am grateful for this opportunity.
Lots of love to those who read this far, I hope to write more vividly and have plenty of photos in future notes. Prayers and continued reading are deeply appreciated.
-Austin Vander Wel