This is Bailee Hiatt, again, signing into Hawks around the World for yet another psychological analysis of why I feel the need to travel. At first my desire to explore seemed natural, but my grandmother pointed out something very important to me this summer that made me think twice. She asked me why I felt the need to do community service abroad when so many people in the United States could use my help as well. In Santa Rosa, California, and Seattle, Washington, alike I have witnessed poverty and inequality. Why don’t I stay here and help the people closest to me? Why even travel when there is work to be done here?
This is a difficult question for many reasons. It addresses the universal problems that service has yet to solve in any one place. There is poverty in every country. There is slavery in some form in every country. There are confused children everywhere, not just in poor countries, but the rich ones too. When two Brazilian “Cannibals” arrived in France to meet the then thirteen year old king in 1563, renowned essayist Michel de Montaigne took note of the newcomers confusion regarding the controversies of a civilized culture. The Brazilians first asked why such a strong army listened to the whims of a young and inexperienced leader, but they also asked why there was such dramatic inequality between the rich and poor (Thank you to my HIST 17.1 professor, William Spires, at the Santa Rosa Junior College for this helpful anecdote). So we see that this has been a problem since the dawn of time. Either everyone gets some or a lot gets nothing. Civilized society today uses social Darwinism to defend the inequalities around us. I believe that people are not born into poverty, rather they were born into a system working against them. They were born into a system where only so few get to enjoy the luxuries of life without lifting a finger.
I saw this inequality in Tijuana, Mexico, when I went with my US-Mexico Border class to build dignified housing in impoverished communities. I saw children forced to walk across a one foot wide wooden beam over a fifteen foot drop to get into their home every day. I saw men deported to Tijuana from the United States having never been to that part of Mexico before. They looked scared.
That being said I am headed to Santiago, Chile for a college semester in only ten days. Of course I will find a way to volunteer, but I am also there to study. This is different than my last study abroad experience in many ways. First, I am going alone to Santiago. I did not plan to study abroad with friends because this is my journey that I need to take myself. Second, I am going for one hundred eight days total instead of only a week. This will give me time to see, hear, and possibly learn more than my last trip out of the country. I will be studying in a Chilean school full-time so that will have a huge impact on my perception of the country. Third, I will be living with a family in Chile whereas in Mexico I stayed at La Posada with my close-knit US-Mexico Border class. This is what I have been most excited for. Every fear that I had about leaving my family for a whole semester melted away when this option was presented to me. It was a no-brainer to chose a home cooked meal and a family to confide in over an apartment in solitude. I haven’t made contact with this mystery family yet, but I will take note of how my experience was affected by living with a family in Chile.
After this much rambling I should probably have an answer to my grandmother’s question by now. Alas I don’t. Perhaps it is because I am selfish. The feeling that I got while abroad in Mexico was irreplaceable, priceless. I suppose I chose to study abroad again in order to get that same feeling of importance that I got before. I probably won’t tell my grandmother that, though. She’d take that answer as a cop-out.