As I started walking further down my hill, Cerro Esperanza, in ValparaÃso, Chile, I saw two girls playing with a television box they had transformed into a robot suit. One was trying to lift up a black puppy into the head of the robot that the other girl was wearing â€” a very amusing sight to see.
I decided to take some photos, and soon enough one little girl was running up to me to ask me where I was from and other questions that only a 7-year-old could be so curious to ask.
The first thing she asked me: â€œConoces a Janet Sparks en los Estados Unidos? (Do you know Janet Sparks from the U.S.?)
I didnâ€™t, but she was determined for me to know, and ran into the modest house where she lived to grab some papers and show me the letter from this Janet lady. I translated it from English and realized that this woman, from the U.S., was sponsoring this little girl standing in front of me, named Yuvitza.
In the past, Iâ€™ve come across many of those postcard size biographies, begging for help for children in Africa, but had never really given those organizations much thought.
Meeting Yuvi, at first, I felt sorry for the few resources she had, but soon found that what she lacked in money she made up with love.
She was one of the most curious kids Iâ€™d ever met and always had a question for me. She kept asking me vocab questions to learn English words, while unknowingly teaching me Spanish words in the process.
In fact, she unknowingly taught me many things over the following four months I had in Chile. Poco a poco (little by little) I realized she was helping me find the person I wanted to be far more than I couldâ€™ve helped her.
Then there was Cony, her sweet friend, and Conyâ€™s very caring grandmother. The day we met, as it started to get late and after playing and taking photos together for several hours, her grandmother told me I needed to be careful with my camera and said they would accompany me up the hill.
Talk about a sweet offer, but it was hard to accept, honestly, because I felt terrible that this little old lady was going to walk up so many stairs just to make sure my camera and I were safe.
This section of houses had no access to roads, so everyday people, the young and elderly alike, climbed these stairs to get to the bus or to make errands.
In any event, the grandmother was panting as we made it up the first hill, and I started feeling worse and worse about the situation. We finally reached near the top and I stopped and thanked them incessantly.
Muchas gracias y un gusto a conocerles. Jugaremos pronto chicas. (Thanks a lot. Good to meet you. We will play soon.) I gave them all big hugs and left feeling like I had just met my second Chilean family.
I made many more visits to Yuvi and Cony over the next few months, always knowing when I climbed down the stairs to where they lived that Yuvi would come running up to me and give me the greatest bear hug Iâ€™ve ever known.
To this day it amazes me how many amazing people I met with so little but who wanted to share and give so much. Going to Chile, I thought Iâ€™d be the one providing the aid, but in reality, I was constantly receiving help and love from those who were less privileged.
Studying abroad not only immersed me in another language and brought me on the most amazing trips of a lifetime, but even more, meeting people like Yuvi and Cony taught me to love better and show that kindness and care toward everyone I run across.
Study abroad. Do it. Be changed by people in another culture you never expected to impact you so deeply. Breathe life and air never felt in a National Geographic magazine or Planet Earth film.
Be bold. Travel, learn and get to know people. Go to the study abroad fair today. Find yourself lost and found in the absolute experiences of a lifetime.
Kaeli West is a junior Spanish and economics major at CSU and a former employee of the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to email@example.com.