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My Summer Adventure in Paradise: Reflecting on My ThinkImpact Internship

Posted January 22, 2016 in Focus on Students, News, Student Happenings

By Sara-Rose Bockian ’17

When people ask me about my experience in Panama I respond with one word, magical. It’s something that I’m still struggling to put into words and I find myself inviting friends, family and even total strangers to return to Piedras Gordas with me so they can see and understand for themselves.

Before I embarked on this journey, all I knew about the ThinkImpact opportunity was the vague description provided on their website. Their description used big buzzwords like ‘social enterprise’, ‘leadership’, and ‘social change’, to lure in eager, ambitious college students – like myself – who were seeking – like everyone else – “to make a real impact” in the world. After two years at CMC I felt I had definitely become more socially aware and I believed my leadership skills were pretty sharp. So, there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation in deciding to apply for KLI’s $6,000 ThinkImpact scholarship that promised a summer full of action, adventure and social impact. I spent weeks polishing my application trying to get that perfect balance between “I am 100% qualified for this” and “I am a budding flower full of enthusiasm and possibility just waiting on that one perfect opportunity to unleash my very imminent but untapped leadership potential.”

Once I found out that I was chosen to receive the scholarship to participate in ThinkImpact’s summer program, I became even more confident that this internship was “made for me” and that with this opportunity I would do amazing things and become an even more amazing person. Now this might sound overly confident, but when you’re competing for a scholarship from one of the most selective leadership institutes at one of the most prestigious colleges in the nation, the grandeur of it all does go to your head. So when I found out I had been selected, I was ecstatic and filled with determination and motivation. I was ready to embark on this journey into the rough rural villages of Panama and make some serious changes for those less privileged and developed. Oh but I was so very, very wrong…

Six weeks later I found myself embracing a new, humbled mindset. I learned that change, even in these small communities where you would think that implementing changes would be fairly (dare I say, simple?), was actually incredibly difficult (dare I say impossible?). And here’s why: we come in as outsiders and assume we know what’s best for these strangers because we have an education, a nice house, modern medicine, access to a world full of knowledge and resources that these people don’t have and aren’t even aware of. That is our first misconception.

The people in this small village know about what’s going on in the world around them and they have chosen not to be a part of it. They have seen what progressive “change” does to communities and they actively decided against that fate for themselves. They are happy that their lives are simple and they are living a 100% self-sustainable lifestyle. They don’t rely on anyone or anything else to provide their basic needs for them. They work together and provide these things for themselves. Their methods are efficient, effective and respect the earth in ways that we are still struggling to adopt, despite the millions of dollars that have been invested in environmentally friendly technologies.

Once I came to realize all this, I questioned myself, who the hell am I to think that I have the right/the privilege/the responsibility to come into this community and try to facilitate “change”. This community was beautiful and harmonious the way that it was and instead of trying to turn it into something else, I slowly learned to soak up all of its majesty and just enjoy being there, in the moment, surrounded by miles and miles of untainted green pastures and my new second family.

I went to Panama thinking I was going to change lives, but the life that ended up changing the most was my own. I learned to see and love the world in new ways. I learned that the best way for me to be a leader in this community was to take a seat, close my mouth and open my ears to what the community had to say, what they thought and what they felt. I learned to be more appreciative of the small steps and to stop being so obsessed with seeing the “bigger picture”. While looking forward and having goals is important, the most rewarding part of the journey are the missteps and learning experiences you gain along the way.

I can’t wait to go back to Panama, my paradise. I can’t wait to get away from the all the stress and pressure society puts on us each day and become re-immersed in this magical community where the day isn’t measured in hours but in the smiles and laughter you bring into others’ lives, the hugs you share and the stories of persistence, love and determination that are echoed from one generation to the next, and define the people of this community in the truest most real sense.