“Guatever” Happens, Happens

I am a planner. I like to know what my schedule looks like for the day, week, and month ahead of time. It is safe to say that my color-coordinated iCalendar and three agendas – which have every obligation, assignment or errand I need to run – are my most dear possessions. Whether it is breaking my next day down by minutes, planning my academic and extracurricular goals, or revising my extensively researched 1, 3, or 5 year plan, I am always looking ahead. Due to this part of my personality, I find that I am someone who places emphasis on the importance of foresight and preparedness. My tennis coach in high school always told us that “success is when opportunity meets preparedness.”

However, I would not contribute all success to being obsessed with planning ahead or meticulously spending hours researching every opportunity out there that would benefit my career goals. Almost all of my most enriching and rewarding experiences have come about by accident or due to “my plans falling through.” I believe that being flexible, trusting yourself and going into everything with an open mind and open heart is essential to success.

Members of the Social Entrepreneur Corps
Members of the Social Entrepreneur Corps

For example, this summer I had the experience of a life-time, when I spent 5-weeks living and interning abroad for U21 Social Entrepreneur Corps in Guatemala. The first thing that I could tell you about my decision to study abroad and work in Guatemala, is that I did not plan for it. I have no prior Spanish speaking experience; I was planning on travelling to Rishikesh, India with UConn Empower in the upcoming winter and also had applied to two competitive public health research internships for the summer. It was not something that I had included in my 4 year plan at UConn. I simply read an email from the Honors Program asking for applications from students who wanted to study abroad in Central America for a four-week program smack in the middle of summer. Interested in seeing if the program would be beneficial to one of my UConn Empower members, I asked if students needed to have prior Spanish speaking experience. Before I knew it, I was nominated by the UConn Honors Program Department for the U21 program and having a Skype interview with one of the founders of the Social Entrepreneur Corps.

Throughout the entire application process and months leading to my trip to Guatemala, my time and mind was filled with ruminating thoughts of self-doubt, anxiety, fear, and curiosity all at the same time. This trip was not a part of “my plan.” I did not know anyone applying or on the trip, I would have to live with strangers in a homestay, and I knew nothing about Central America.

I had travelled to Cusco, Peru and Bamenda, Cameroon before with student organizations that I helped found (UConn Medical Humanitarian Society and UConn Empower), but it was an experience that I had gone through with my friends. Before college, I had never thought I would be able to make an impact in a global setting, but Cameroon and Peru had not only been rewarding experiences of personal growth, but taught me that in order to make a difference in the world I would have to stay open-minded and step outside of my comfort zone. I felt that this was an opportunity that I had to take and everything would work itself out. I felt like I had to go to Guatemala, because as Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “you must do the thing you cannot do.”

Travelling and working in Guatemala this summer was an unforgettable, exhilarating and enriching experience. I learned more in 4-weeks of interning at Soluciones Communitarias than I did over the last three years. During my time in Guatemala, I made new friends from all over the world, met amazing mentors and got to have a short taste of the challenges of international development work. I am happy that I did not “plan” to go to Guatemala because there was no way that I could expect how impacting it would be on my life. Being prepared and aware of all opportunities is important; however, it’s important to go into college and life understanding that you always end up exactly where you need to be. I needed to experience Guatemala and U21 to understand more about my career, goals, and even myself.

Sumia enjoying Guatemala
Sumia enjoying Guatemala