Student submission: Joanie Ellis, 2015
At the end of spring semester, I wasn’t exactly sure what my summer plans would include, but I knew I needed to brush up on my Spanish speaking skills and experience a new culture, new people, and a different way of living. Todos Santos, Mexico presented the perfect opportunity and more than fulfilled these needs!
I fell in love with everything the small Baja California Sur town had to offer. Even better, I was able to experience life in Todos Santos as a Colorado State University student. As a CSU ambassador for five weeks, I learned not only from the great CSU Todos Santos team, but I also learned a tremendous amount from the local community.
As conversations occurred between myself and the local people of Todos Santos, I was able to help explain CSU’s presence in Todos Santos. Aside from informing individuals of CSU’s presence in Mexico, I also had the opportunity to learn from a number of community engagement meetings. Whether it was a youth dance group, a meeting of school directors, a group of Americans, or an environmentally interested group, each gathering was productive in sharing more about CSU, and learning about what the community members wanted from CSU, whether it be workshops (dance, future preparation, veterinarian, environment) or involved in helping improve the community (trash/recycle). It’s easy for me to talk for hours about the amazing community of Todos Santos, and in the following I have only described a few highlights from my five weeks in the community.
Continuing to learn from the community as a student ambassador, I had the wonderful chance to assist in the Todos Santos Recycling Center, “Punto Verde,” which is run entirely by two brothers. People can bring their recyclables to the center, and the brothers break each piece down, separate it, and eventually transport recyclable materials to La Paz, the capital city of Baja California Sur, Mexico. Recyclables included cooking oil, glass, plastics, metals, paper products, or any electronics, and involved hard work that needed to be done on a daily basis given the quality. Whether it was going to the center and doing the hard work with them, or helping put together presentations to present to the local schools about recycling, being a part of the recycling process and learning more about the challenges and opportunities that exists was motivating and inspiring to continue to be an environmentally conscious person.
In addition to helping out in “Punto Verde,” I also assisted in The Palapa Society of Todos Santos, which exists to encourage education and safe activities (to name only one of the amazing things that The Palapa Society does). From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, a group of 20-30 children, ages seven to ten, came for summer camp. We played games, learned about recycling, conducted science experiments, made art, tie dyed shirts, and much more. Developing a relationship with each kid also made the goodbye hard, but I know I will forever have friends at The Palapa Society. Also associated with The Palapa Society, we went to the beach on Tuesdays and Thursdays to teach the kids water safety in the ocean, as a lot of these kids who live in Todos Santos don’t know how to swim. The activities with the Palapa Society were a great highlight in sharing CSU with the kids and their families, and I’m glad I was able to represent CSU in an encouraging way for participants of The Palapa Society.
These past five weeks were incredible, and for me to be able to represent CSU was likewise a special experience. I also hope that I was able to make as much of an impact on the individuals I met in Todos Santos as each of them made on me. It was an experience that I will never forget, and I will always cherish the relationships that I developed and what I learned. My biggest take-away is to respect other cultures as you would want your own to be respected. CSU stepped into the small town of Todos Santos, and along this journey for both the American and Mexican cultures, the two have worked hard to learn from each other – that’s what “neighbors” do.
I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to go to Todos Santos, Mexico for five weeks as a CSU student ambassador. My love and passion for CSU has grown, as along with my love for another culture. For each of these aspects of my life, I can proudly say that perhaps they have been the most influential parts of my life as learning opportunities. Our CSU partnership with Todos Santos is important to both communities, and will only continue to evolve. I cannot wait to see what the future holds for this perfect place.