Interview with UST VISION Leaders

UST Students

The UAC-CP’s External Relations Coordinator Nora Harless recently interviewed University of St. Thomas students Natalie Gaskins (’18) and Mackenzie Kelly (’18) about the VISION trip they led to Carmen Pampa during the month of January. VISION is a global community-building program at UST that focuses on service and learning.

Nora Harless:  What were your expectations about visiting the UAC-CP, and what is the reality that you saw and experienced here?

Mackenzie Kelly:  I didn’t have specific expectations of exactly what it would be like. Leading up to our trip, we had spoken a lot about the drought [in the region]. I was surprised by how lucious the land seemed here. Then, talking to Gladys [coordinator of the UAC-CP’s coffee processing plant] about how climate change has affected coffee harvesting here–it definitely put into perspective expectations versus reality, and how, although it didn’t seem like it has been affected, it really has. I started to imagine how much worse it must be in other places in the country, where the change in climate has affected survival more dramatically.

Natalie Gaskins:  Honestly, it was hard for me to build expectations [about the UAC-CP] before coming in, because it’s such a different environment. Before coming here, though, I did a lot of research about the importance of the coca plant in Bolivian culture and the laws surround that. But it’s one thing to learn about these things–sections within a different culture–and another thing to see and experience them. I think being here, actually going on a coca tour and seeing the coca being grown, going to pick coffee and learning about the process–it becomes so much more real. I feel the need to be more conscious of my decisions and how I consume things at home. That’s something I’ll definitely take away. That, and water. I’m so, so appreciative of clean running water. I’ll definitely be consuming less [back in the United States].

NG: Yeah. I’ve also taken away that, in working with students and administrators to better these problems, I have gained friends. I’m excited to keep fostering these friendships from afar. Everyone that I’ve et has been so kind and generous. The other day, when we walked to the community in San Pedro, Doña Regina [a community member] welcomed us into her home, offered us fresh fruit, and gave us coca readings for free. It was incredibly kind and generous of her.

MK: Yes! And that has made me reflect on how generous I am back at home. People that I have met here have been so open and willing to embrace my visit, and that’s a mentality that I’d like to continue when I return to the U.S.

NH: You are both college students at the University of St. Thomas, which is located in St. Paul, Minnesota. Do you have reflections about what it has been like working and living at a rural college in Bolivia?

NG: I’m studying Music Business and Spanish, and those majors don’t exist at the UAC-CP. Their majors are so applicable to the environment that they are in – like agronomy and nursing. They are such needed vocations in the rural area. And I love the communitario (community service)  requirement that all of the students have to make the campus better. It creates a communal feeling, that everyone has a hand in bettering life on campus.

MK: I’m a Marketing major, and it has made me reevaluate what I actually want to do with my major after I graduate, and how I could even use it in a place like the UAC-CP.

NG: There’s a level of resourcefulness to the way they approach their careers that is so admirable. The students understand the importance and the benefit of their work in a way that isn’t quite as common in the United States anymore.

NH: Do you have a favorite moment from your experience at the UAC-CP?

MK: I loved working and touring the cafetal [coffee processing plant]. It was fun fertilizing the new coffee plants, and then getting to see the end result – every step in the coffee growing process – and how the work we did was used.

NG: Same. Seeing the fertilizing, putting the soil into the bags, putting the seeds in the bag, planting it into the ground, letting the berries mature, the quality process and de-pulping – it was really cool. I’m a barista [in the States], and it has been really eye-opening for me to see the entire process of coffee harvesting. And all of the care that they put into it pays off – the coffee is incredible!

MK: I also liked working in the classroom with the English teachers. I don’t speak Spanish, so I thought the language barrier would be difficult. But we were able to laugh and correct each other, which make me feel really connected with the students. They were teaching me, I was teaching them, and it made me realize how language wasn’t necessarily as inhibiting as I had thought.

NH: Any words of wisdom for future VISION St. Thomas trip participants?

NG: I’d definitely say being adaptable, and getting to know the students. Be open and learn as much as you can during your stay at the UAC-CP.

MK: And don’t be afraid to ask questions! It’s a great way to learn about life here, even if you don’t speak Spanish.

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