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The Global Poverty Peer Advisors and our faculty mentors at the graduation ceremony

The past week was full of celebrations and goodbyes as I graduated from UC Berkeley, packed up my things, and flew back home to DC for a few short days to get ready for Guatemala. Before heading out on a red-eye last Thursday evening, I spent my last few hours in California at the Global Poverty and Practice graduation celebration, and I could not imagine a more perfect way to round out my four years at Berkeley. The Global Poverty and Practice minor has been my home and my family for the past three years, and I honestly do not know where I would be today if it wasn’t for the faculty, staff, and other students in the minor. I was even selected as one of the keynote student speakers at the ceremony, and I had the opportunity to share a few words about just how much the Global Poverty minor has meant to me, and how it has shaped my Berkeley experience and my passion for international development and poverty alleviation.

Speaking at the ceremony was such an honor, such a rush, and probably one of my proudest moments. I spoke about the challenges of international development work, how each of us has (and will continue to) struggle to find our own roles within development, and how even though we have all certainly contributed to the rampant economic inequality that plagues our world today, we do not have to be innocent bystanders, and its up to us – as development practitioners, students, or even just as citizens – to use the tools that the minor has provided us to as we go on now into the “real world.” As soon as I get my hands on the video of my speech, I’ll post it here, along with the full text!

Now, I’ve switched my focus to really actively preparing for my Tuesday departure. A lot of people have asked me what I’m packing…and the truth is, not a whole lot! Luckily, I can get almost anything I need there, so most of what I’m bringing are just general, everyday clothes, rain boots and rain coats (it’s rainy season right now!), and any sort of medications or toiletries that I might not be able to get there (or that might be a lot more expensive). There are certainly a lot of things I’m going to miss about living in the U.S. – clean, hot, reliable running water, consistent internet and my iPhone, city living and access to taxis, restaurants, movie theaters, shopping, concerts, and events, amazing supermarkets like Berkeley Bowl and Whole Foods, and the huge variety of clean, safe, healthy vegetables that go along with that, access to gyms, yoga studios, and exercise classes, and of course, online TV and music services like Hulu, Pandora, Spotify and Netflix.

But looking back on that list, I know that there really isn’t anything that I can’t (very easily!) live without. With such convenient access to technology, fancy imported food, shows and events, and even the more simple things like running water, electricity, and safe homes and neighborhoods, it’s easy to be materialistic and to start to take these things for granted. The last time I was in Guatemala, I quickly learned to appreciate the simpler things in life, and just to take life more slowly. Sure, there’s no Berkeley Bowl with aisle upon aisle of fresh, safe, organic produce – but instead there’s a wonderful market with locally-grown fruits and vegetables, which you can purchase directly from the farmer, and at ridiculously low prices. Having to wash fruits and vegetables in a special chlorine solution is a pain, but many of the communities I will be working with can’t even afford to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, so how could I possibly complain? And while I’m lucky in that Panajachel has a thriving (albeit small) bar scene and a vibrant ex-patriate community, life in Pana will certainly be nothing like life in New York City (where I spent last summer), Madrid (where I studied last semester), or even Berkeley (where I’ve lived the past four years). There will certainly be things that I am giving up. But I also gain the opportunity to live alongside the most beautiful lakes in the world, to throw myself into a new job that I’m simultaneously thrilled and terrified for, to explore the mountains, valleys, volcanoes, and ruins of Guatemala, and to travel all over Central America during my time off. Beyond that, I have no choice but to force myself to be more brave and more independent – from improving my Spanish to navigating the public transportation system to asking for help and directions when I need it (rather than using Google or asking Siri as we are all apt to do because of convenience). I’m going to make mistakes, get lonely, get sick, miss my friends and family, and miss the structure and support that I’ve been so used to as a university student, especially through the Global Poverty minor. But it will certainly be an adventure! Not bad for a first job right out of college… 🙂