It's the last day of my fellowship, so you'll have to forgive me if this post is a bit scattered. The thing is, at the end of my fellowship, I don't quite know where to begin this post. It's funny, because at the start of my fellowship, I didn't know where to begin either. Fresh out of graduate school, and without a lot of expectations for the fellowship other than working for an organization for which I had long admired, I arrived in Medellin, Colombia a little wide-eyed, and I had to take things one day at a time. So maybe I'll start this post the same way I started my time in Colombia: step by step.
I was propelled here by both my love for the work that Grameen Foundation does and the belief (for whatever reason) that Colombia had an office full of amazing people. I'm leaving here a year later having both these beliefs confirmed.
I have learned more in the course of a year than I ever could have hoped. I designed and led training sessions for our partner organizations. I've learned about coffee production, potato production, and onion production. I helped design and then build our mSourcing tech solution, ultimately managing the project. I have interviewed and worked with dozens of farmers, leaving each interaction more inspired than when I started. I've learned that sometimes, instead of a nicely written, detailed email, the best way to get a partner organization's attention is through a short and sweet Whatsapp message. I've learned that when I push myself, and focus more on others than myself, I can, in fact be an outgoing person. I've learned how to manage tight deadlines and limited resources to still get a project out the door (with a little sweat and tears, of course). I've also learned, through my year here, that there are many pathways out of poverty, and that Grameen, across the globe, is creating these pathways, and helping the world's impoverished along their paths.
When I came here, I think I had the foundation of skills and abilities to be a successful development practitioner, but I hadn't exercised them. During my time in Colombia, I've been given the opportunity to capitalize on them, and in the process I have grown leaps and bounds professionally. It's been a great year of professional growth, but it's also been a year of amazing personal growth. The thing I’ve valued most over the course of my time here are the relationships I have developed. It's the thing I always worry about the most, that keeps me up at night for weeks before I move to a new place: will they like me? For me, relationships always, always make my time in a place. And so, being a bit shy and reserved, and not being a fluent spanish speaker, that is what worried me most before coming to Colombia.
At first, I thought all was lost. My coworkers seemed to be speaking spanish at a mile a minute, and I was overcome by worry and anxiety about my new job and my new city: how could I live and work here for a year? But then something great happened: I was sent out on trainings. Other than getting me away from my desk where I stewed in worry and self-pity, these trainings were great because I got to interact with my co-workers in a more intimate setting. And from there, the ball started rolling. There were hours upon hours spent with Miguel as we trained coffee producers on our Community Knowledge Worker program, driving at all hours of the night and day to reach our destinations. There was the nickname "Ms. Burns" which soon turned into "Lady Burns" called out throughout the day by Juan Carlo. There was laughter with Ramiro as I choked down cuy (guinea pig). There was unparalleled patience from Luke, Steven, and Juan David as they tried to teach me basic tech knowledge. There were endless jokes with Jessica, whether on the squash court or huddled in a tent in wailing wind while camping on the beach. There were homes and clothing offered by Whitney, Maria, and Lori when I suddenly found myself without an apartment. There was a life shared with Sergio, who not only rescued my belongings from a crumbling apartment and visited me in the hospital, but also managed to live with me for a year, sharing laughs and stories and days. There were lots of jokes from Juan Forero. There was amazing mentorship from Alberto. There were adventures with Juan Pablo throughout Medellin, watching a rugby game, climbing a mountain, and walking through a comuna. There were afternoon sweet treat breaks with Eliana. There was continuous support from the other LAC fellow, Tomas, as well as many memories shared. There were lunches with coworkers in parks. Paragliding trips in the mountains outside of Colombia. World cup matches where we screamed our hearts out. Nights spent dancing and singing. Days upon days of happy memories.
I don't quite know how to end this blog post, just like I don't quite know how to end this fellowship. But I probably should, because it's turned into a bit of a sappy novel (perhaps it was not the best idea to write this on my last day). To my co-workers here in Colombia, thank you. Thank you for supporting me both professionally and personally. For dealing with my horrible spanish, for watching out for me, for laughing with me, for sharing your country with me, and trying your very, very best, to teach me how to talk, sing and dance like a Colombian. Thank you for making Colombia home, and for becoming my Colombian family. It's been an amazing year, and it is because of all of you.
Laura Burns just finished her year as a Grameen Foundation Fellow. She was based in Colombia.