I absolutely love my job. It’s a weird thing to write, if only because the line that follows it: I’ve recently quit my job. In reality, I quit a couple months ago, but it was only recently, while leading a group of students on an immersion trip to Tijuana that it really hit: The sun is setting on the number of days I have left to do something that I absolutely love. See what I did there? Cheesy, you bet! But in all seriousness, I’m a mix of emotions right now. Reflective and perhaps even a bit sad when I think about leaving my gig. Excited, curious, and if I’m to be real, a bit nervous about the future.
So what did I do? What am I doing next? And if you’re reading this, perhaps the better question is this: Why the heck should any of this matter to you?
For the past few years, I’ve been a lucky traveler because my day job was essentially to travel. But not just to travel, but to travel to the region of the world I love and feel most at home in: Latin America. And in true infomercial style, wait- there’s more! It was travel, it was Latin America, but it was also with a focus on social justice and education. I’ve journeyed through various parts of the Americas with some of the brightest and most compassionate students. Along the journey, I’ve made friends equally bright and compassionate. People living and working in the poor and marginalized communities that have opened up their doors, their kitchens, and their hearts to me and my students. We’ve looked deep into the ugliness of poverty, and found it’s so much more complex than we ever imagined: It’s spiritual, it’s material, it’s systemic, but most of all, very real, very scary, and in one way or another, present in us all. And we’ve witnessed the deep scars injustice inflicts, and had to ask two important questions:
1.What role might I have played in this, intentional or not?
2. What role will I play fighting against it, with every ounce of newfound intention?
Thanks to a program I spend much of my time with, De Colores, I’ve found a home amongst the people associated with Build a Miracle, a nonprofit that works in El Florido (just on the outskirts of Tijuana). I’ve shared many a meal, a laugh, and a tear with the men, women, and children building a beautiful and resilient community that inspires me on my monthly visits to Tijuana. When I end this job, one thing is certain: I’ll still be making that 142 mile trek to the border, breaking bread with friends and loved ones who have taken several pieces of my heart over these last few years.
I’ve also found a home amongst a community in constant motion: The various migrants I have met at Casa del Migrante who have shared a small piece of their life with me in the stories we share over a dinner that always feels too short. Migration is the social justice issue that pulls most strongly on my heart. In these men I see the men and women of my own family, once migrants struggling to provide for their families amidst a backdrop of economic uncertainty. It’s their stories and the names of their children that I lift up when I go to what has become the spiritual home of Baja California for me: Friendship Park, a place along the border where families can come together and amidst the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean, shares stories that a wall can’t even hold back.
Along the way I’ve also journeyed further. I went back to Chile and soon I’ll go back to Ecuador. Along the way I’ve also journeyed with students everywhere from Cordoba, Argentina to San Salvador, El Salvador. I’ve worked with some wonderful people in LA and beyond to grow our immersion program called Ignacio Companions. We’ve instituted a leadership class, recruited a wide array of students, and watched amazing relationships get built across borders. I heard it said recently college gives you questions to the answers you thought you had, and I hope that’s been the case with most of the students I have had the personal fortune to work with.
But more than the travel, I’ve been touched by the quality and depth of relationships that have formed. I came into De Colores at a fragile time in the story of this program that is almost 30 years old. The program was just returning from a temporary closure that came about amidst the security concerns in Tijuana. Uncertainty was abound everywhere and in everything we did. There were several moments of “what the hell am I getting into?” but all that was erased on our first trip down, when the community in Tijuana welcomed us back with an emotional response that moves me to this day. Here’s the thing: As a student, I participated in De Colores on a regular basis. It helped shape me. Near the end of my senior year, one weekend trip in particular gave me the silent affirmation I needed to take the biggest risk of my life and move to South America. And so coming back to be there with this valuable program and the incredible students who affiliate with it in a difficult moment is an experience I will treasure for some time to come. One of my mentors Brendan Busse ran De Colores when I was a student, and I can’t articulate how inspiring it was to work in the footsteps of one of my mentors.
Throughout this time I’ve been blessed to work with inspiring student leaders that have come to LMU everywhere from India to Indiana. Anytime you turn on the news, you can’t help but think about how the world has truly felt so dark as of late, and yet I remain as optimistic as ever: For this group of college students, so easily put down and poked at by older generations, is truly something special. Oh if only you could see them the way I do, you too might have hope for our future. I have learned so much from my students, and I cherish the relationships built with them and the young alumni I continue to get to journey alongside via Skype, emails, and shared meals here and there when they stop through LA in the midst of their great journeys. You all mean more to me than you will ever know, and you’ve inspired me time and again.
Where am I going next?
Almost a year ago, Laura and I were asked to explore the possibility of moving to Cordoba, Argentina to run a social justice study abroad program LMU has called CASA de la Mateada. And while I know that at some point again in my life I’ll need to move abroad again, as a family Laura and I both realized that now wasn’t the right time. But months later, a new offer, connected to this previous opportunity came along. And so in April, I’ll start a new job in Los Angeles, in Academic Affairs at Loyola Marymount as the Director of Global Ignatian Academic Initiatives. A long and confusing title, but at least not as crazy as the one Billy Rosewood gets in Beverly Hills Cop 3.
But in my new role, I’ll have a chance to really build upon what I’ve been doing for the last few years with immersion trips. Working with CASA, a semester long program that immerses students in community, academics, spirituality, and accompaniment (CASA) is a dream come true. I’ll also have the chance to develop new programs, local and international, that engage this very Jesuit ideal of a “well educated solidarity” So in short, I’ve got a chance to dive deeper into a world I love, and a chance like never before to really get creative and be an intrapreneur! And what’s more, I get to put further roots down in LA. I love travel, but like many of you, I also grow in my appreciation of home and the people that make that word mean something. My work, while awesome, was taxing. I was away often, and due to the frequent weekend programs to Tijuana, I found myself missing more and more baptisms, birthdays, celebrations, and life moments with friends who are the bedrock of my support. I’ll miss the frequent visits to Tijuana, but I also look forward to the parties and life moments of my family and friends I’ve been MIA to the last couple years.
What does this mean for you?
Over the last year, this blog has led me to meet and interact with a variety of travel bloggers. Many are full time bloggers, a job more demanding than most would realize. But many are just like Laura and I, people with full time jobs, but a passion for travel, and a desire for the end result that is always bigger than travel: Community. This role will give me more exposure to the academic discourse around everything from ethical travel to experiential learning. Over the months to come, I suspect you’ll see some research I come across in my day job incorporated into this blog. The stories will be here, how could they not? At the root of it all, the mission is still two fold:
1. Provide tools, resources, and tips to better enable ordinary people the chance to travel like they dream.
2. Be storytellers that tell stories to remind us and motivate us to appreciate the value of travel.
And finally, maybe it means you have a new gig. If my old job sounds cool, I’ve got good news: They’re hiring! Hit me up if you want to know more.
Thanks for joining us on this journey. As our little blog grows poco a poco, I’m excited to share a very personal side of my life with you all. Stay tuned in the days that follow for more cool news and after that, it’s back to tips and tricks to maximize your travel!
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