Reflecting on a Summer of Taking Leaps of Faith

As I stepped through the doors, it was the heat that hit and crashed over me first.

As I stepped through the doors, it was the heat that hit and crashed over me first. My grandmother and I had just stepped out of the air-conditioned San Salvador International Airport into the outdoor walkway to the parking lot. It was lined with countless people, shouting simultaneously in Spanish, waiting for passengers. Children ran around; people bustled forward to greet friends and loved ones, some with balloons swinging wildly. As my head swam from the heat and the noise, we glimpsed my aunt through the crowd. After greeting her, we hurried out of the crowded, sweltering area to find our car in the parking lot. As I sweated and lugged my suitcase across the parking lot, I informed my aunt of my goal while in San Salvador: I was only going to speak in Spanish.

My mom is from El Salvador, but I wasn’t raised speaking Spanish. I heard bits and pieces, giving me an advantage in class, but nearly all of my Spanish was learned in school. As a result, I’ve always felt self-conscious speaking Spanish, especially to native speakers. I’m always doubtful and question myself when speaking: Is my accent bad? Am I making mistakes? Even now, I hesitate to speak Spanish sometimes, worried that I won’t be good enough.

Nevertheless, as I walked through the parking lot, I knew that in order to make the most out of my trip, I had to push my insecurities aside.

Of course, I quickly learned that it’s easier said than done. On my first night, we ordered pupusas (a thick flatbread from El Salvador made of cornbread) and had a family dinner. It was late, I was tired, and although I was excited to see my family, the fast-paced, overlapping conversations were too much for me to follow. I couldn’t stop thinking about how much easier it would be if I were completely fluent. Even when I followed the conversation, I wasn’t fast enough to get a word in. I felt like I couldn’t express myself and remained silent during the majority of the conversation. That first night, I truly felt the language barrier—I felt like I couldn’t be myself.

Yet, over the course of my trip, I felt that I was improving. About halfway through my time in El Salvador, I went out to lunch with a few family members. As we sat at the table, someone brought up the upcoming U.S. presidential elections, which is a topic I’m particularly interested in. That conversation remains among one of my favorite memories from my trip. Not because of the content of the conversation, but because of the way I was able to speak Spanish. It wasn’t perfect. There were English words sprinkled in from time to time, and I’m sure my grammar wasn’t flawless. But, for the first time, I felt fully able to express myself and found myself enjoying speaking Spanish. After that one conversation, I felt more connected to my family than I had before. I gained confidence in speaking, realizing that I was good enough. I had enough strength as a Spanish speaker to carry a conversation and enjoy it. I remember going back to my room that night and thinking about that one conversation with a smile on my face. Throughout the next few days, I got more comfortable and confident speaking, allowing me to form relationships with new people. I felt more connected to my family and my own identity and most importantly, I realized that I didn’t have to be perfect, especially with my family.

Reflecting on my time in El Salvador, I realized all the opportunities I would have missed out on if I had let my insecurities get the best of me. I kept a journal while I was there, and as I look at it now, I can truly appreciate all of the incredible experiences my trip gave me. As a person primarily interested in medicine, getting to visit clinics and shadow doctors was something I thoroughly enjoyed. As I read my day four entry, I can still vividly remember being in the operating room (OR) of one of the hospitals I visited, watching a live birth. I can still feel the OR wall against my back and my feet beginning to cramp from standing on my tiptoes for too long. I can hear the baby’s first cry. I can remember coming home, still in my scrubs, and excitedly texting my friends about it. As I read that entry, along with all of the others, I realize that none of it would have happened if I hadn’t taken a bit of a leap of faith.

In order to get the full experience, I had to embrace the language. I had to trust that even if I wasn’t perfect, I could figure it out and make it work.

Looking back, my trip was the highlight of my summer, and one that I’m eager to experience again. My insecurity of speaking Spanish ended up being one of the many sources of joy on my trip. I could feel myself improving, even if it was only by a little bit. I’m thankful for every opportunity that came my way and proud of myself for the work I put in. Ultimately, sometimes a little leap of faith is crucial and it can certainly lead to an amazing experience.

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