I feel like I’ve always struggled between being the person I am, the person I think I should be and the person I want to be. I was never really happy with the person I was until returning from a volunteering trip in Costa Rica when I was 17. After that I felt I wasn’t quite who I wanted to be, but as if that person was in sight, reachable. I had caught a glimpse of the kind of life that I wanted and the kind of me that I could be in that life.
On returning to school, I felt restless. All of a sudden I knew what I wanted to be doing and it wasn’t being stuck in a classroom in dreary Scotland. I struggled to keep myself settled throughout the year and keep my patience with those around me who, I felt anyway, didn’t understand what I was going through.
At this point I had already applied and been selected for a year in Honduras with Project Trust and, quite honestly, I just felt like I was wasting time until I could get away again. With the exam results I needed in my back pocket, I focused all my energy on fundraising. I jumped at the chance to go to any Project Trust event and whenever I was there, with other Project Trust people, I felt completely at ease. It was the most like myself I had felt since leaving Costa Rica.
Honduras drew closer and closer and eventually I was right on the verge of leaving. One last trip to Coll to Project Trust headquarters for our training and then I would be off. Meeting all of the volunteers for the first time felt like meeting up with a group of friends. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a phrase used so often but ‘like minded people’ really is the best way to describe the connection I felt with the rest of my group. It takes a certain calibre of person to decide to move across the world to embark on a year of teaching with very little preparation or training and at only 18 years old! It is this part of us that was attracted to the each other when we met, even if we were different in other ways. Around these people, I didn’t have to think about how I acted or care about what they thought of me. I was able to just be me.
It goes without saying that I have gained an inordinate amount from my time spent in Honduras working as an English teacher. Some things are hard to measure, like the confidence I now have in myself and my abilities and the view I have of the world, but others, like the skills I have gained from being in the classroom and my language acquisition, are very tangible.
As with any job, there are myriad skills to be gained from the experience and a year with Project Trust is no different. After a year of doing nothing else, I am obviously considerably more comfortable standing in front of a class and teaching and my ever present organisation has been put to good use but I have also developed others skills that have not been so strong in the past. Tolerance has definitely been key at various moments throughout the year, sometimes with my pupils if they won’t stay quiet or focus on the task at hand but also with myself, when the limits of my language or previous experience as a teacher restricted my ability to deliver an effective class. My people skills, while not necessarily lacking when I left for Honduras, have been enhanced by not only having to deal with people in a different language but also with different social cues and expectations.
One of the more unexpected but most significant areas I have developed has been in my adaptability. Before Honduras, I would let small issues stress me out and everything had to be on time, arranged in advance and I had to know everything that was going on. After living the chaotic lifestyle that is Honduran to the core, I have learnt to adapt a more tranquila attitude. Things happen when and how they happen and there’s not much you can do to change that so why worry about it? This has been somewhat hard to translate into life back in the UK but I’m trying.
Spanish was a crucial part of my decision to spend my gap year in Latin America. My aspirations to become near fluent had an effect on my university decision as well – I chose to study French with Chinese instead of Spanish – so it was important to me that I learnt as much as possible. Language is an integral part of any culture so not only have I improved an invaluable skill, it has also enhanced my understanding of the people and the way of thinking of a vibrant country and region of contrasts.
There is so much more than this however. The understanding of Honduras that I have achieved after living there for a year is the the kind of understanding that can only be attained with this kind of total immersion in a place. This has exposed me to the thoughts and motivations behind a clearly different style of life to my own, which is something that most people, even those who have travelled widely, may not ever get to see. Understanding a culture means understanding its language, its history, its landscape, its people and so much more.
Meeting so many people from across the globe while travelling has also shown me there are so many options in life. There is not one set path – life does not have to be school, university, then work. I have seen the many paths you can take and working in the role I have has confirmed the path that I want to take. In my head, my future has always held travel. As this thought grew to become more realistic ideas for a career path, I expanded on that to three criteria: I wanted to travel; I wanted to learn foreign languages and use them; and I wanted to do something to help other people. My trip to Costa Rica introduced me to the idea of working for overseas organisations but it was still vague at best. I now know that I do want to work in this field with charities and NGOs, specifically with education, social development and women’s empowerment.
As I have said, I have always felt caught between the different versions of me that there are and could be. If Costa Rica opened the doors for me to become the person I wanted to, Honduras had me stepping through those doors. It amazes me how much my self confidence has grown in just a year and with all the changes I have faced I feel more ‘me’ than someone else. It’s like I’ve always been this person but she just needed the right opportunity to come out. I used to feel very self conscious, something not a lot of people might have realised because I was quite good at pretending I didn’t care what anybody else thought of me. Now I actually don’t – I realise how many different types of people there are, either in appearance or personality, beliefs or ambitions, and that all of these should be celebrated.
Coming home was the hardest part of the year by far. I can see the difference in myself after this year and leaving behind the place responsible for all this positive change pulled at something inside of me. The other volunteers that I had spent the year with had become my family and have been big influences on me. Saying goodbye to my Project Trust family was hard because I was worried that I would be saying goodbye to all the ways I’ve grown this year and I don’t want to. Moving backwards makes it very hard to move forwards. Fortunately this doesn’t seem to have happened, so far anyway, and I’m hanging on tight to make sure it never does!
Being back in Dunblane has been strange. It doesn’t make sense to my mind that I’m back where I was a year ago after having everything be new and exciting. I feel like I’m 17 again and still figuring out who I am and who I want to be. Now I feel like I have that at least partly figured out, being back in Dunblane is making it very hard to reconcile the two feelings. I know I don’t want to go back to how I was before but I feel like Dunblane sits on the new parts of me, the more outgoing, relaxed, adventurous parts and says ‘Sorry, there’s no room for that here’. It’s suffocating and I have been eagerly watching the clock counting me down until I move to Edinburgh for my next adventure. Dunblane will always be my home but I’m not sure I fit here anymore, or that I necessarily ever did.
As I sit on the cusp of my next adventure, it may feel like my Project Trust adventure is over but that is definitely not true. I will not, and cannot, let go of something that has given me so much without giving at least a little in return. Project Trust has done so much for me that I will never be able to adequately put into words and I know that a large part of what is to come will be a result of the experiences I have had throughout my year in Honduras. I want to thank them in a million ways for the effect they have had on me but nothing seems enough. Thank you for this opportunity, thank you for my life-long friends, thank you for giving me a family on the other side of the world, thank you for bringing me out of myself and into the world. Thank you.