Going to Petatlan, Guerrero, Mexico (St. Peter’s sister city) on the Spring Break “Learning to Serve” trip was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my time at Gustavus.
I admit I was apprehensive at first. I knew home-stays would be involed and that my Spanish wasn’t great, but I decided to give it a try. There were 17 Gustavus students on the trip, ranging from fluent Spanish speakers to others who knew no Spanish at all.
We were a cohesive group with a diverse mix of ages and majors. Each one of us stayed with a different host family in an effort to immerse ourselves more fully in the culture and daily life of the local people.
Throughout our time at Petatlan, we participated in a variety of service projects. Each day, we would meet at the local coordinator’s home and divide up into our service projects for the day. We taught English to a group of high school students, had language exchange trips with the university students around the town, volunteered in a hospital and clinic, and spent time with special needs children at a local rehabilitation facility.
Despite the language barriers, each opportunity to serve was incredibly rewarding. I found myself becoming increasingly comfortable trying new Spanish phrases and interacting with the local people, while they became more comfortable interacting with us.
The relationships we built with the people of Petatlan were by far the most rewarding part of the trip.
For the past four years, Gustavus students have been eager to serve in Petatlan. While taking part in the culture of the area, we all had the common desire to share whatever we could with our sister city, whether it was something tangible, like clothing or a meal, or something intangible, like language or even a smile.
For me, our sister city relationship with Petatlan helped reinforce the idea of global community. Everyone around the world has the same needs and deserves the same respect. Instead of reinforcing our differences, we should emphasize our similarities.
I was struck by how my host family acted so similarly to my family back home and how students goof around with their classmates in Mexico just as we do in the United States. As soon as we reach out towards others, we will find that, more often than not, they are willing to reach back toward us.
As Gustavus students, we came to Petatlan to serve and were served at the same time by our generous host families and members of the Sister City Committee. I am excited to continue the process of “learning to serve” using this trip to Petatlan as a constant reminder of our global community.