Colombia, Here I Come/ Colombia, Aqui Vengo

In an attempt to share big news with as many people at once, here’s a letter I sent to some friends. After such a trying couple of years, I am extremely excited and honored to participate in fellowship that will allow me to explore Colombian culture. I can’t wait!

Some of you are aware that I have accepted a fellowship to teach English in Colombia, South America. I will be living in a small, charming town north of Bogota called Villa de Leyva. I will be joining about 20 other fellows from different countries (mostly from the U.S.) in Bogota for training before residing in our respective cities/towns. In Villa de Leyva, I will be joining three other fellows who seem very lovely; we’ve talked and exchanged advice over email.

Villa de Leyva is a small town in the Andean Region of Colombia. The Department, similar in governance to a state, is called Boyaca and it’s primarily a rural, farming region. The population is under 10,000 and it’s considered one of the nicest colonial villages in the Colombia. The entire town is a National Monument! There are many areas of interest including the main square, possibly one of the biggest in the world; an ostrich farm (I’m sure that’s not something you’d think I’d be excited about, but I am!); a fossil museum; an area of seven waterfalls; several restaurants right in town, and many more attractions. Admittedly, I’m interested in visiting an old astronomic observatory made of phallic stones, thought to be created by the Muisca Indians, called “El Infiernito” or little hell in English. As a child, I loved astronomy and I still appreciate it. The climate is temperate, the town is a vacation hub for many in Bogota, and the scenery looks amazingly serene.

Many have asked why and how I decided to accept this fellowship. I’d been thinking about teaching overseas for awhile. As I began to look into it seriously, a good friend sent me an application for the Atlas Corps experience without knowing I was seriously pursuing something like this. Kismet! How surprised was I when I was accepted! It’s been a remarkable, yet extremely challenging couple of years for me working to build my consulting experiences. This opportunity will allow me to continuing working on that while experiencing and learning international social entrepreneurship skills and volunteering to teach English. Because of everything falling into place, I am extremely excited to be a novice expat in Colombia during 2014!

In hopes to be as prepared as possible, I’m asking for your support to help me with this experience. Please check out my GoFundMe page: http://www.gofundme.com/CarolynLoweryColombia. Every thought, prayer, and penny is appreciated! I’ll keep in touch via social media outlets and through my blog.

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Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

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This past week was not good. Alright, it was pretty bad. Generally, I do not post things that are related directly to my personal feelings, but I re-learned and remembered a lesson or five that’s worth sharing.

To start, I posted something on another social media site that had a great message, but held grammatical mistakes. I’d hoarded the message for weeks, waiting to get past my grammar snobbery; it never happened. Anxiety high, I posted it finally. And the first comment I received mentioned the grammatical errors. Oh dear heavens! The worst thing to happen since I started my social media life happened! I wanted to scream that the message was not mine, that I didn’t write it, that I’m a better writer than that! I didn’t write those things (but I did respond that I’d noticed and posted said message begrudgingly). The truth is that I like to write, I like to edit, I enjoy research, I enjoy technical writing, but… wait for it… I’m not a perfect writer. *Insert shocked face.* I make grammatical mistakes, too. Ask anyone about my spelling aptitude and they’ll laugh. I’m not perfect. My mistakes haven’t killed me. Lesson 1.

More seriously, a few events rattled my fundamental belief that people are essentially good. I’ve always known that people want to do good deeds and be good. Right? Last week, I wasn’t sure. I witnessed acts of selfishness that screamed the need for some to develop their self-respect. I heard conversations that shocked me to the core- some words should never be said to another. Furthermore, making someone cry or feel bad is not an accomplishment. I challenged my own thoughts and actions and was stunned to realize that they were not always pure, not always nice. The latter was not a surprise. I work on being the type of person I want to be every day and it’s progressive, hard work. A few other occurrences left a heavy feeling on my heart and left me depleted for a period of time. I won’t forget the things that happened this past week, but I didn’t want them to ruin my week or change my equilibrium.

But then it happened! While feeling emotionally drained, I saw, heard, re-learned, and remembered some things. I saw great deeds of selflessness. A neighbor picked up another neighbor’s dog droppings without pausing. How selfless is that?! Lesson 2. I saw and heard friends and acquaintances share words of encouragement and kindness when it was most needed. A friend received several texts, calls, and emails when feeling empty; some would think this friend didn’t deserve the kind words. Lesson 3. I re-learned that (most) people who make enormous mistakes, especially when feeling lost, hurt, or when filling voids want to make things better. I received a heartfelt apology for something that happened months ago and really didn’t warrant an apology. Lesson 4.

Most importantly, I remembered love. Love is a powerful tool. For me, love does not mean forgetting. It does not mean putting oneself in harm’s way or knowingly being taken advantage of by anyone. Love does not mean revenge. Love is kind and begets love. Lesson 5.

Mistakes are made and feelings get hurt. Embracing the pain hasn’t helped me. Remembering that love and the actions that follow it, prevails in me and in humanity has helped me. It has replenished my short-lived diminished faith in people. I know I will have bad days in the future, but I know that I posses several tools that will allow me to thrive in this thing called life. And that makes me happy.

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Commercials

I really enjoy a good commercial. A commercial that breaks the monotony of the (usually) mindless drama or comedy I’m watching really makes my day. My abrupt laughter surprises me, making me yearn for the quick feeling of joy it elicits. Commercials I love are witty, comedic, seductive, silly, smart. Throughout college, I’d long to connect with my friends through reminiscing about commercials. They’d glance at each other, laugh, and look at me like I was crazy (having not seen my favorite-commercial-of-the-hour. I forgive them and still love them. They still love me.).

It’s the lightness of some commercials that draws me in. Everyday we see and read about crimes against humanity. We feel injustices against us. We cry for friends and family we’ve lost. We watch as our politicians emphatically make decisions we don’t like. We get stuck in traffic. We break a cell phone. We argue. We wish. But the 30 second clip of a commercial can briefly wipe away all of our bad feelings and make us laugh when we didn’t expect to. Learn to respect commercials. They are great!

Here’s a clip of one that I love: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HBS6HMdkNAw

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What Next for Social Workers?

Recently, I responded to a question posted on Facebook by the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy. The question was about legislation that should emerge after the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Here’s what I had to say…

Working with students to build an active and informed workforce in addition to providing them tools to mentor/ teach is key. At this moment, a widely used civics curriculum is important to teach students and post grads. This curriculum (or series of curricula) will guide them in knowing and understanding how to advocate for their customers and selves, especially for SW students who do not focus on policy. There is so much good action happening in the SW world, and it could be expanded if taught how to have broader impacts. Overall, I think legislation to encourage students to explore policy to become civic minded is critical. (It could present in the form of tuition remission or loan forgiveness, similar to title IV-E programs in schools, with an incentive to work in the field of policy or research after graduating).

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What do you think?

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I Am a Community Organizer

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Welcome to my first post!

Thinking back on the past week and after having a great discussion with my mom, the Civil Rights Movement, from the choice of a figure head to the organization of local actions, was beautifully organized. It happened without social media, without the Internet(s- haha, that still makes me laugh), and in a manner that is text book. This is a real life example of how thoughts become actions, which become organized actions, which becomes policy. Amazing. Organizers do not work for attention, they work to change the social fabric. One might NEVER know who was behind a series of events, big or small, and I will say that we never need to be known. Moreover, different people will have different roles when organizing. Some are thinkers. Some are doers. Some are teachers. Some are gatherers. Some translate thinking into doing. Etc. Yes, even entertainers are important in this (for those who think less of other disciplines) (the disparity in pay or how one entertains is a different topic). No one can work without resting mind, body, and soul. I hope we can move forward respecting each others roles and with a constant desire to change our communities- the many different places where we live, play, work, worship- to enhance them.

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