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Photo by Celia Mitchell (2015/16 Semester Photo Contest Entry), Indonesia Semester.

How Long It’s Been; How far I’ve come

Photo by Benjamin Swift, Andes & Amazon Semester.

Three months ago, I arrived to Bolivia and wrote this letter to myself:

I sit here perched above a high, Andean canyon. My weight, borne by the Pachamama and my emotions supported by the collective strength of the group. Yet, that’s not quite honest; my inner peace, excitement, and focus still come from within. Although, I’m sure I will come to depend on them in the days ahead. This moment’s task asks me to write a letter to myself, addressing my hopes and fears for what lays ahead during the three to come.

I have many goals. The first two that come to mind are Spanish fluency, a goal towards which I’ve been working for the last two years, and to attain very rapidly an arsenal of trekking skills while hiking through some of the most amazing places on the planet.

I also want to improve my ability to work in groups. After four years in the American high school system, I’ve found that I have grown competitive with others in a way that I see fruitless. I would still like to retain my competitiveness, yet instead focus it more directly on myself. I believe that in order to reduce my competitiveness with others, I will need to find humility. That is something I can learn here while working alongside many intelligent, fellow Dragons and from life spent immersed in the many, unique and rich cultures of Bolivia and Perú.

When it comes to interacting with others, I’ve become quite adept at identifying what I perceive to be flaws. During this trip, I wish to adjust that ability, using it instead to find the best in others and concentrate on those strengths in a way that pushes a team to be all that it can, leaving “flaws” b by the wayside. For the second, I’m not criticizing myself; I think I’ve come a long way in that regard. I just wish to continue progressing in that direction.

I look to my instructors for inspiration as I work towards these goals. They, weathered travellers of the world and exceptional leaders and team-members, are blazers of a trail that I hope one day to take.

I fear that my eagerness to practice my language skills, to dive into adventure, and potential leadership positions may alienate me from some of my group members by coming off as arrogant or flashy. To improve in this manner, I hope to pare down my words, making them fewer and more meaningful. I will take the adage, “A wise man speaks when he has something to say; a fool speaks when he has to say something” as my guide.

I don’t think homesickness and events at home that will call my early return will be my biggest obstacle, but time will tell. When times are bad, I will look to my instructors and my friends for support.

It really is beautiful here.

Buena suerte,


Last night, I opened this letter for the first time since its creation atop an isolated ridge outside of La Paz. By the light of the fire (and a borrowed headlamp), I read the words written by the person I was when I stepped off the plane three months ago. My hands shook. My eyes teared.

How long it’s been… how far I’ve come…

Now I would like to write a letter back

To the person I used to be,

You probably wouldn’t recognize yourself. You’ve shaved once in three months. Your attire now consists of a blend Bolivian woven artesanía and vintage American clothing sold at black markets. You´ve had only one hot shower in the last three months, and probably fewer than fifteen in total. You’ve been sicker than you’ve ever been. You’ve cried for reasons you wouldn’t have understood. Yet, you couldn’t be happier, because you became the person you set out to be and so much more.

You’ve climbed mountains over 16,000 feet.

You’ve jumped through waterfalls in the Amazon.

You’ve played country music with some of the most inspiring musicians you’ve ever met.

You’ve touched families and they’ve touched you.

Your Spanish is fluent.

You’ve trekked through some of the most amazing landscapes you’ve ever seen in your

Your group became your family and you care for them more deeply than you ever could
have imagined.

You’re a leader who brings out the best in everyone around you.

You’re so proud of yourself.

You love your life.

And, you can’t wait for what comes next.

Buena suerte,