The start of my internship was a joyful one, but as the time went passing by I started feeling an emptiness in my heart. There was something that the center of New York couldn’t provide to me, something that I could only find in my land and essentially needed by me.
As one month passed, I tried finding this lost treasure that left a void in my heart. I tried searching for it by buying expensive plantains chips from the supermarket, or in the drums of the traditional music of my land but subtly, in the bottom of my heart, I knew that it wasn’t the lack of these things that were creating the void.
A visit to the Bronx to refill my pantry with food from my land was the first time I got a hint of what I was longing for: it was just some human warmth. The warmth which the people from my country give out without thinking too much about. The warm smiles and the familiarity, maybe a hug, was all I was longing for but this did not develop immediately in my mind.
I’ve been a teacher for a year now. My favorite students are teens and young adults starting from 13 to 25 years old. I call them “my kids” and I absolutely love them.
My eldest student just graduated high school a couple of days ago and it completely filled my heart with pride. I held my breath in surprise and realized how stupid I was: I didn’t miss a piece of land, or a specific sound or taste. I just miss taking care of my students. I miss paying attention to their stories of the week and their jokes. I miss correcting them with love and discipline. I miss having someone look up to me for advice and as an example.
I miss giving myself to them, showing my own humanity and vulnerability, and recognizing this in them too.
I can confidently say that the most beautiful week of my internship was the one in which I had the pleasure to be one of the counselors in the International Summer Camp. To be honest, maybe it was the only week I didn’t miss home at all.
At first, the campers were shy and as the week progressed some difficulties arose. Some of them had different ideas, some of them were angry all the time, tired from jet lag or probably uncomfortable by the diet change. There were clashes and even tears were shed, for a short while it seemed as if the whole camp was doomed and everyone walked in silence.
My heart was lit with a fiery passion, one that sought to offer people love as a weapon to change them. To allow them to go back home disappointed would only happen over my dead body. I started getting close to the ones I felt were loners in the group. I heard their opinions and showed vulnerability myself. I turned myself into more than just one authority and into a real friend.
I discovered that the toughest was the sweetest, the most beautiful was somewhat insecure, the most passionate had the kindest heart, the most joyful needed the biggest amount of love and care, and the one that wanted to be perfect had flaws too. As I started giving myself to them, they started letting go and showing their vulnerability and humanity as well. I heard stories about their families, about what they wanted to be as adults, their experiences with people, how they wanted to change the world, and what their dream life was.
I gifted them my friendship and they didn’t think twice to trust me. I stayed firm in my beliefs and they accepted my thoughts and shared theirs too. They ended up admiring and looking up to me, the same as my kids back home.
We experienced first hand how we can overcome difficulties, arrive to agreements, and enjoy time together even if we have differences in language, personalities or beliefs. This is because we all share this humane inherent vulnerability: we all have feelings, reason, will, dreams and aspirations. We are all tied by this bond as a true big global family.
At the end of the week, the more isolated became our best friends, the more independent seemed to be the most attached to us, and the shy ones were shouting out jokes for everyone to laugh at. Everyone was sad to say goodbye and tears ran down faces at the time of the departure.
I am sure that I will keep communication with some of these kids and that I will definitely never forget this experience. After the ISC week, the WYA Headquarters felt empty. I miss the campers as much as I miss my kids back in Quisqueya. I got the opportunity to experience and, hopefully, teach others what the gift-of-self means.
And I can’t wait to go back home.
Written by Yustina Lang, an intern at the WYA Headquarters from the Dominican Republic