Traveling to Colombia and Coming Back “A Whole New Person”

by Lev Dufaux ’23

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts that highlight Athenian’s Pillars, the foundational values that we share with all Round Square schools. This installment is a speech about International and Multicultural Understanding delivered by 8th grader Lev at Morning Meeting to the Middle School.

We had hiked for about an hour or so, the air thinning more and more with each step up the mountain. Our conversations began to slow as we rose over 9,000 feet. Once we neared the top, gasps and yells of excitement broke out of our airless lungs. Our dewed faces lifted when we saw a big blue-green gleaming lagoon cradled by a bowl of jungle, like a potion being brewed in a witch’s pot. Last year, I went to Colombia for a Round Square conference that Athenian annually takes part in, along with three other Athenian Middle School students.

The Round Square trip was an opportunity to bond with people all around the globe, immerse myself in a culture very different from American culture, and develop leadership skills that will help me and others create a better home for everyone. South America was new to me, and I had no idea what to expect. Colombia led me through a whole other culture; it almost felt like a new world. Like a hug and kiss whenever you meet someone, or the smell of exotic food that lingers through the air. When I explored Colombia, I experienced new flavors, new landscapes, a new language, and a very loving community. Dancing was a very big part of my trip there. We had dance competitions to our favorite Reggaetón songs, laughing at how terrible we were at Cumbia. We tried all kinds of new wild Colombian flavors, my personal favorite being hot chocolate and cheese, which melts on your tongue like cotton candy. I met all kinds of new people, not just American and Colombian, but also Chilean, Peruvian, Mexican, Brazilian, Canadian, British, Argentinian, and Danish people.

One moment that changed who I am today was when we did a service project in a small school in the mountains. At the school, we created murals, made a new playground, took care of the children, and made the school a more enjoyable place. When we sat there in the worn down schoolhouse, I realized that the kids were not super young, but closer to my age. Later, our guides told us that they were so small because they didn’t have easy access to food. Keeping these children in mind keeps me grateful for my community, and it compels me to help others. Knowing that I made these children’s lives a little better keeps me focused on leading because it changed not only their lives but mine as well. I became inspired to stand up and lead, and I now feel comfortable sharing my opinions.

Never have I gone on a trip to a foreign place and come back as a whole new person. I met so many new people that I still talk to this day, and more often than not I find myself thinking about all the great experiences I had with all kinds of wonderful people. I miss the smell of freshly made ajiaco soup pouring out of small restaurants and the taste of homemade arepa that gives you a reason to step out of bed in the mornings. I miss the warm hugs and kisses when you meet someone. I miss my good friends that I made that I still talk to today. I haven’t forgotten about Colombia one bit, and still keep a part of it on my wrist every day, a bracelet the color of the Colombian flag. Special thanks to Esteban and Cynthia for organizing and supervising the trip, and to Kyle P., Kate L., and Maddie G. for coming along with me.