Something that writers tend to say is: weak characters cannot carry a strong plot, but strong characters can carry a weak plot. It was with this thought in mind that I began the day with what is most likely the most aggressive and most fiercely hated wakeup call of this entire trip. As El Lider Del Dia, I became unexpectedly flustered at the start of breakfast, forgetting even the most practiced of traditions—greeting the servers at CONAMUCA before eating. After an otherwise uneventful breakfast, we started the day by sitting at desks for three and a half hours. The first hour was used to revise our letters of appreciation, while the last two and a half hours focused on our last seminar, the Final Reflection Program Seminar. I had been warned before that the seminar would likely become extremely emotional, and, in turn, mentally prepared myself to be the captain of the soggiest of seas. I was both surprised and smugly correct.
The beginning of the seminar was the most academic-seeming, and the part that I had accurately expected no tears from. Glimpsers participated in a road map activity in which each individual was asked to draw five of their most significant moments of the trip, along with important lessons they had learned about themselves as individuals and themselves as leaders, and, finally, the person who had inspired them the most throughout the trip. Students were asked to share their illustrations in self reflection groups, which went smoothly and without any sort of support needed on my part as Lider. The second part of the seminar involved a STOP, START, and CONTINUE activity, in which Glimpsers wrote one thing that they would stop, start, and continue doing as leaders in the States, based on what they had learned from this trip. Glimpsers then reviewed what others had written on the posters. Again, this activity went quickly and smoothly. The third and most surprising activity of this program was the one led by the Lider Del Dia, a.k.a. me. Glimpsers had thirty seconds to write anonymous positive feedback on Big Love sheets of each of their peers, and, after reading them, would volunteer to share their feelings about their personal feedback. Rather than turning the event into a charged and tearful one, Glimpsers seemed unwilling to open up and release their inner sappiness, something they had seemed to have no trouble doing in the Big Love sessions of previous nightly meetings. Instead, people pointed to the “weirder” or funnier messages left for them, reading them aloud for their peers to laugh at also; they tried to turn the event into a lighthearted and easygoing one, something that slightly disappointed me. The open mic session that came immediately after, in which Glimpsers were allowed to share group-wide Big Loves, went better. After our better GG Leader, Mrs. Oji, released some tears, it became a bit more acceptable for people to open up, although most seemed afraid to open up all the way, refusing to continue with their Big Loves for fear of crying, or jokingly attempting to keep others from giving them Big Love because of the aforementioned waterworks. It was during this time that I felt the most proud of my fellow Glimpsers. One of our Program Coordinators, Kristin, had told us that “Vulnerability is strength,” and I felt that we really began taking it to heart at this point. At least half the Glimpsers shed some tears, even if we tried to hide it, and some important and very sentimental words were said to each other.
With my Big Loves, I tried my best to acknowledge the little things that I had noticed about my friends: how Kim washed everyone’s dishes every night, how Austin’s inclusive attitude was what really helped each member of the group fit together, helped us become one of the most breathtaking puzzles I have ever seen. Willy said the most that I have ever heard him say on this trip, taking the time to tell each and every Glimpser some of the most positive attributes he had noticed about them on our journey. After our unity clap and program closing came lunch. Personally, this was one of the more stressful portions of the day. Everyone had had so much to contribute to our seminar that we were running about fifteen minutes late for lunch, something that in my mind was unacceptable, because we had to arrive at the local pool, Rancho Tres Palmas, at 2:30PM along with our ambassadors. For the majority of lunch, I ran around making sure I had all the materials I needed to bring, such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer, while simultaneously trying to ensure that everyone was aware of the time and sticking to a tight schedule. I felt as though I was not fulfilling the responsibilities that the GG Leaders and Program Coordinators had trusted me with when they gave me the position as a partnerless leader on this important day, and this realization began weighing down on me more heavily as the day progressed. Thankfully, we were mostly on the bus by two, and everyone, including the ambassadors, arrived at Rancho Tres Palmas without a hitch.
Swimming in the pool was something very out of my comfort zone, as I hate water. However, on this particular day, I was willing to, because I knew that my peers would be looking to me, and I also wanted to inspire them to take some risks and try new things. It didn’t go as badly as I thought it would, as everyone took turns playing games such as Chicken, or just having plain old water fights. Even if the event wasn’t necessarily meant as an opportunity for us to grow academically or character-wise, I felt as though we made the most out of this chance to really bond with each other and the ambassadors, the twenty of us who had survived these eighteen days together.
After the pool came our long-awaited souvenir shopping trip to La Sirena, the Walmart of the Dominican Republic. For those of you back home, expect some bomb gifts, because some of the souvenirs were LIT. It was during this time that I stepped back from my Lider Del Dia mode, and let myself and others have some fun. After La Sirena came the bus trip back to CONAMUCA, and the farewells to our local youth ambassadors. It was during this time that we all learned—goodbyes don’t always happen like they do in the movies. Sometimes, it will not become the drawn-out, sentimental scenes that you see in chick flicks or rom-coms. Real goodbyes can be short, unexpected, and something completely emotionally unprepared for. It still hasn’t quite hit us yet that we may never be able to see our new friends again, and I hope that it doesn’t until we get back, because vulnerability may be strength, but I have shown way too much “strength” on this day alone. After our second to last bus ride came the usual: dinner, a slightly shorter nightly meeting, and free time to pack, which I am using to write this blog post (meaning that I haven’t packed yet).
I thought that I was a cold blooded organism, but tonight, as I hear the voices of my peers goofing off from the nearby conference room, as I hear the crickets chirping and see our resident stray dog nosing around for who knows what, I feel the nostalgia coming on. I will miss this place and its mint covered couches. I will miss our rows upon rows of bunk beds. I will miss the wonderful, friendly staff of CONAMUCA, and the welcoming residents of the Dominican Republic. But most of all, I will miss you guys. It takes incredibly strong characters to carry weak plots, and my Glimpsers, all of you, carried this not-so-weak plot all the way through. From our frenzied card games, to girl talk and photo ops just before lights out in our rooms, to dancing to mixtape 36 on the bus, I will, and you will, miss it all. I wish we could have more time together.
On this trip, all of you have taught me incredible lessons that I hope to exemplify in my future actions. Willy, I will miss your jokes (sometimes). Theo, your comfort is some of the best comfort that any person can give, and I will miss it in the future lonely moments of my life. Issie, everyone says this, but you give the best hugs, and you encourage the good and honestly acknowledge the bad in each and every one of us. Krystal, continue speaking up, and don’t let yourself have any regrets. Sirach, never stop being unafraid to be emotional, and always remember your worth. Mareiya, you are one of the best leaders I have ever seen. Leslie, you have so much to give and so much to say. Don’t be afraid to say it. Tida, you always know the right thing to say for everyone, and Austin and I agree that if the group was the cast of a horror movie, the death of your character would make the audience cry the most. Rebekah, I love your wild spirit and the way you listen so patiently. Kim, never stop supporting us. I see you, but don’t be afraid to take some credit for all of your love and generosity. Jessica, you are so vibrant and so caring. Keya, you have a wonderful talent for making others feel included and for making others listen. Julie, don’t ever stop being hilarious. Austin, thank you for being energetic, for being humble, for being accepting. Grace, I admire your positivity and confidence. Alicia, you are wonderful to talk you. Thank you for your advice and for your tolerant and unconditionally caring attitude. I hope you make it to the CIA one day. Fabiola, your helpfulness, your compassion, your empathy are all so inspirational. Diana, you are funny, great at making people feel like your friends, and sarcastic in the best way. Adrian, thank you. For being here, accepting our weirdness, talking and listening to us. Keep talking, and keep dressing the best out of all of the guys. Each of you is so complex, I could spend a lifetime getting to know you and still have more to learn. Even if I became the writer I wanted to be, I could never create characters as wonderfully, intricately developed as all of you are. Keep carrying each of your own plots, and I hope to create a story with you all again someday.