Torero Life Abroad chronicles the life of a University of San Diego student participating in a study abroad experience. Ian Rodgers ‘14, a biology major, traveled to El Salvador in January.
At the end of Intersession, I was fortunate enough to find a home in a group of 10 undergraduates, graduate students, and staff members as we journeyed to El Salvador through the University Ministry Romero Immersion Program. In our 12 days in this beautiful Central American country, we spent half our time in the capital, San Salvador, and the other half in the rural community of Guarjila.
The purpose of the trip was not to serve, for we realized how little we could do in such a short time. Instead, we were there to learn about the reality of the country from individuals and organizations alike. Although we had many meetings to prepare for our time in El Salvador, no number of readings, movies, and history lessons could ready us for entering into the lives, both the immense joy and the immense pain, of the Salvadoran people.
The values of the Romero Immersion Programs challenge students to seek out and embrace solidarity, spirituality, simplicity and social justice in the people we meet and experiences we have during the trip. I say the values challenged us because, as we left our comfort zones and entered into the margins of society, we couldn’t help but see the injustices. We heard many stories from Salvadorans who had lived through the country’s 12-year civil war, who had endured tremendous hardship.
On our second day, we met a courageous woman named Magdalena, who gave witness to her experience as a “disappeared person” during the war. She recounted her capture, torture, and eventual release for us. It brought her great pain to relive those memories. In our reflections on that day, many in our group were at different places. Some were able to see Magdalena’s smile and live in the hope while others, myself included, were stuck in the pain. I asked myself whether there was room for hope in her suffering, and I found I did not have an answer. I’m still working for an answer to that question.
As our experience continued, though, I began to see hope as well. I saw immense hope, and pure joy, in my host family. My host brother, Steven, a mere 14 months old, had a smile that could light up the world. And his grandmother Teresa, who experienced the loss of 10 siblings along with her husband during the war, shared with us the gift of her laughter, a gift more valuable than any material item.
I learned many important lessons in the 12 days we spent in El Salvador. I learned the history of the country and the war that led to 75,000 civilians dead. I gained a deeper understanding of the work of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the namesake of our Romero Immersion Program. I learned to be present to other people, in whatever they may choose to share with me. I learned to be present to the pain and hardships of the marginalized, and also to be present to the not infrequent moments of joy in their lives. Most importantly, our time in El Salvador taught me the value of human life and the dignity we all share.
El Salvador truly grasped me. The challenges, the joys, the lives of the people there have a firm hold on my heart, and I choose to carry them with me as I continue my final semester here at USD.
– Ian Rodgers ‘14