About a year ago, after being accepted to Birthright Israel Excel, I embarked on the first of many adventures that I would have in the next year. I spent the year completely alone and surrounded by strangers as I bounced from an internship in Israel, to study abroad in Asia, and then to South America, where I worked as a volunteer in a rural school. I had my share of highs and lows, and I made great friends along the way.
I arrived in Tel Aviv in the summer of 2017 to begin my summer job doing research and development for Microsoft. Beyond my time in the office, I enjoyed weekend getaways, amazing food, beach days, & nighttime Frisbee games. I attended many conferences, most of which left me with more questions than answers.
But the most important part of the program was that it forced me into uncharted territory and led me to new friends from Canada, the United States, and Israel. These people were fascinating, each with a different past and perspective. I started sharing my ideas, my way of thinking and of living, my goals, and my fears. And I heard theirs. This internship left me with hunger for more exploration and challenges, and it gave me the courage to pursue them alone. So, I kept going.
After the Birthright Israel Excel program ended, I returned home to Mexico City, to the places and people I have known for so long. Everything was the same, but I felt different. I decided to go to my study abroad program alone. I picked Singapore, a country renowned for its chewing gum prohibition, booming economy, and surf board-topped skyscraper. Everybody asked me why I picked Singapore and I had the same answer as everybody else: I wanted to experience a foreign culture, learn about this intriguing country, and travel around Southeast Asia. And it helped that English is one of the official languages of the country, sharing this fact with only India, Pakistan and Philippines from the same continent.
Choosing Singapore was not the hard part. Before departing for Asia, I had the most stressful three months that I have ever experienced. For the first time in my life I would be in a foreign country without a single relative, friend, or even acquaintance. I knew that if I didn’t form any good relationships, I would spend five months completely alone on the other side of the world.
But that’s not what happened. I landed in Singapore in early 2018 and started the semester at the National University of Singapore. I soon realized, just as everyone had reassured me, that my fears were baseless–there were hundreds of students from around the world hoping to do the same thing that I was: meet new people, explore the country, travel around Asia, and dive into this strange and captivating culture.
It is impossible to describe those six months of my life in a couple of paragraphs. I lived plenty of new and unique experiences, each day was a new adventure and constantly there was a new place to go to; I visited more countries than I could have ever imagined in my wildest dreams, including Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Hong Kong, China and Japan. I made friendships that I know I’ll keep for the rest of my life (and I mean that). On top of that, I took what turned out to be nearly the best course of my academic career, one that involved plenty of business cases, technology innovation, useful information on starting my own business, and an excellent professor.
After the semester ended, I travel all over Southeast Asia, spending periods with friends that I met in Singapore and otherwise alone. Before my internship in Israel, I would have never even considered this as an option. I met many people while traveling including one Excel participant from another year, who happened to be my mentor for the Excel program .
I returned from Singapore reflecting on these events in my life, and I had one particular realization: it’s pretty easy to make friends when everyone is in the same place for the same reasons. Going completely alone pushed me to be more open and easygoing when meeting new people. I also realized that I want to keep seizing opportunities to do the things that I like, that I care about, and that move me deeply.
So, instead of taking summer courses or doing another internship, I decided to go to Trujillo, Peru to volunteer with an NGO called Hilo Rojo (red thread). Hilo Rojo was founded as an alternative school for kids that, for economic reasons, cannot even attend public school. I was a teacher of first and second grade for five weeks, teaching math, science, Spanish, and English.
Hilo Rojo was an unparalleled experience. Even though five weeks was not enough time to make a big difference in the educational development of these students, I helped in other ways, such as co-organizing a fundraiser to improve the infrastructure of the school and classrooms. I watched these students progress during my brief time with them and, on my last day, I read the heartwarming letters that they wrote for me. Without Hilo Rojo, these children would have no education at all.
My time in Peru left a deep impression on me. I formed relationships with the children and spent time playing with them, I succeeded in teaching them valuable lessons, and I met people from all over the world who shared my values and goals. Together we shared the joy of new friendships as new volunteers arrived every other day, and the sadness of saying goodbye every time one of us had to leave. I discovered a new source of motivation to develop our society and surroundings, as now I want to keep helping children on their education and development, particularly those who have less opportunities.
From the beaches of Tel Aviv to the mountains of Peru, the adventures, experiences, new friendships, and lessons were constant and innumerable. Now I am back in Mexico, focused on new goals and committed to experiencing more of what I saw and felt over the past 14 months. Back at home and in routine, everything seems exactly the same as before I left. But when I look back and remember what I lived, I realize how much I grew and matured, how much I enjoyed every second of it, and how different I am from that person who, at the moment of boarding the plane to Israel, was deeply concerned wondering if he would be able to create relationships with those strangers, if he was brave enough to live those experiences by himself and if he could go as far as to achieve his goals and dreams. If I can be sure of something nowadays, it is that at least until now I have accomplished them, even the most crazy and ambitious ones.