Obies Using Languages: Rachel Leader ’17

Where did you spend your semester abroad?

I was in Central America – Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua. I was abroad from winter term, the semester, and my summer.

How did the last day of your time there feel?

I spent my summer in Guatemala.. and after 7 months abroad.. coming back home felt like an enormous and frankly hard-to-wrap-my-head-around transition. There was a lot to process. I felt so connected to the people and places I had lived in. I had felt so immersed in the language and culture that had both challenged and brought me unprecedented joy and connection. On my last day out of the country, I was in Mexico City visiting a friend.. the next day I would head back to the States (although not home yet!). I felt overwhelming gratitude for my experience and all of the overwhelming gifts I had been given.  I was able to form deep connections, share myself and also step back and commit myself to the practice of listening deeper and more actively. I reflected on how much I had grown into myself and my body. I felt sad – as if I were leaving my new self behind along with the language container that preserved my “confident, brave, outgoing, funny” Spanish-speaking alter-ego. I remind myself that this other self is also within me wherever I go and with whomever I’m around.

How were you treated by people you met?

People I met while abroad were incredibly kind and gracious. I was only met the warmest of hugs and sincerest of questions. I was given a lot of attention as a foreigner from the US. I was asked about my education, family, and food. My host families were always eager to engage and learn and I always felt a strong sense of respect and cultural custom.

What is it like to try and connect with your peers at Oberlin having gone through a vastly different experience than most of us?

It’s been tricky… Although I have been through a hugely transformative experience since I was last in Oberlin, I don’t feel that connecting with peers is necessarily more challenging … in the sense that “oh they wouldn’t understand.” Instead, I mostly feel more grounded and centered in myself. I feel calmer. I know myself better and interact with the world around me in a more conscious, kind, and open-hearted way. I don’t burden myself with the same insecurities (though there are others…) and find that I am able to be much more patient, accepting, and honest with myself now. I am able to connect with friends more genuinely and have so much more perspective on my life here after having much needed distance for so long.

How did you change the people you came into contact with?

I wasn’t necessarily looking to change the people I came in contact with. I was certainly seeking mutuality, however I was always very aware of my positionality as a white women from the United States. This didn’t necessarily intellectualize or emotionally distance my experiences and connections – however I was certainly aware of these race/class/citizenship differences and spent much of my time listening, learning, educating myself, being honest, and giving back to communities and friends with engaging energy, creative spirit, and music. I worked on being flexible, intuitive, curious, and respectful.

How did you engage or immerse yourself in the language?

My first two months abroad I immersed myself in Spanish – living with host families and studying for 5 hours every morning. Learning Spanish became a lifestyle .. and was so much fun! I absolutely loved the process – though it was certainly challenging. I was forced to stay confident in my speaking and just go for it! What a terrifying and empowering experience.


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