ALEX LIEDERMAN GUEST WRITER
Life as a teenager at ASL seems challenging. High school is the time in your life when you feel the most confused and uncertain. To get through this period, you need to figure out what inspires you and how you can help to inspire others. For each summer leading up to last, I would go to summer camp and afterwards come back home and sit on the couch and do nothing. This summer, I decided it was time for me to go outside of my comfort zone. I went on an International Camper Exchange Program (ICEP) trip to Chile and those five weeks were the most meaningful of my life.
One of the highlights of the trip was learning to be thankful for what I have. This trip made me feel more appreciative and it helped put my life at ASL into perspective. Our group spent time in Las Cañas, a very poor area of Valparaiso, Chile. Our group was assigned to help build a house for a man and his five children (ages 3-8). They lived in a house smaller than my living room. There was dirt everywhere and trash piled up onto the roof. It was a huge shock to me that six people could live in such small space and poor conditions. When I returned to London I was much more grateful for all of my possessions, for my house and for ASL, and through my experience I became much more aware of how the rest of the world lived.
As well as completing 47 hours of community service, I made some incredible friendships with both Americans and Chileans. As the whole group was experiencing a whole new world and culture together, our friendships became stronger and longer-lasting. Throughout our five weeks, I made some of the closest friends I have ever had. For nine days my friend and I were assigned to a home-stay family where we would sleep, eat and live. We lived with a family of five, three teenagers and two parents. The neighbourhood was called the Hill of Depression and the house was modest with no indoor heating. It was as cold inside as it was outside.
At the beginning it was very awkward. Making small talk during dinner was closest we came to a conversation. However, after those nine days we all felt as if we were part of one family. It was a home away from home. The family had welcomed me as their son and shared everything they had with me. I was inspired by their warmth and generosity. They accepted me as a person, not as someone too privileged. At the end of the trip, none of us wanted to leave. We clung to each other, vowing to come visit and communicate frequently. This trip was nothing like my summer camp experiences, and has made me some life-long friendships.
As an ASL student, the sights, sounds and sensations of living in an impoverished area of a developing country challenged me in many ways. Rabid dogs roamed the city, digging through rancid heaps of decaying garbage. When we cleared land for a local family, we wore protective clothing and masks to clear decades of debris. I was challenged more than I expected and working hard helping others inspired me to do more.
Our group also toured Chile, exploring the capital city Santiago, Valparaiso and Viña del Mar. We visited the vineyard belonging to the family of our group leader (unfortunately we didn’t have any wine). I can confidently say that eating a classic Chilean barbeque surrounded by rows of grapevines is an experience to be cherished. We also visited Pomaire and explored the area, and went to Pablo Neruda’s house. His house is on a very tall hill that overlooks the sea and the bustling city. It was an extraordinary experience.
Overall, the trip was an incredible and life-changing experience that was a totally new and challenging way to spend the summer. I recommend that ASL students consider such a trip to see the world, to make new friends, to help others and to experience a new culture. Most importantly, whenever I now try to figure out where I am amidst the stressful academics and the drama of the social life at ASL, I will derive strength and inspiration from my Chilean adventure.