Wanderlust #3: Coming Back

This post originally appeared on the Dean Rusk Wanderlust travel blog in January 2012.

Coming Back — Hayden Higgins

Here I am, back at the Miami Airport. I’ll probably get to Davidson around 1AM tonight. Winter break has been amazing, but I’m really looking forward to this final semester. What a strange set of words to come out of my mouth—final semester.

This morning I woke up in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia. Santa Cruz is the second-largest city in Bolivia, and I had to stay there overnight on my way home. The city is lush with greenery, and humid, too. The way the air was thick with water instantly reminded of my time in India with the Davidson in India program.

On my flight from Bolivia to Miami I sat next to a student at Georgetown who had visited Davidson—what are the odds of ever sitting on a plane next to someone who has ever stepped foot on our little campus? (Maybe some of the alums out there would know?)

In fact, that wasn’t the only time I met someone today who was familiar with the College. Having hardly eaten since lunch yesterday, I was happy to find a cheap (by airport prices) Chinese place. My smile turned upside down when, having received my food, I saw that there were no open tables. A voice called out—“Come on, join me, I won’t be long anyways.” I sat down with a nice lady who turned out to have formerly been a study-abroad coordinator in Costa Rica, and who now lives in Valencia, Spain. She recalled having been to Davidson a few times on recruiting trips, and we ended up talking at length about the merits of study-abroad and an international education in general.

As an undergraduate I’ve already studied in three countries—England, India, and Bolivia—on three continents, on three totally different programs, and at a minimum of personal cost. Each has contributed in its own way to my growth as a traveler and student.

The hallmark of this particular trip has to be, I think, the fact that I undertook it alone. The agenda was not fixed by anyone else. No one told me which books to read to prepare. I traveled alone. I spoke almost exclusively in Spanish. The self-reliance level was, I think, at a record high. This is in and of itself both the biggest challenge and the biggest reward in any endeavor such as this. On the one hand, I was flexible, and could change plans on a dime, acting as I saw fit. On the other hand, I never had anyone to brainstorm ideas with.

As it seems to be with many students’ out-of-country experiences, everything seemed to click right when I had to be leaving. On my final full day in Cochabamba, Friday, a lead I had checked up on earlier in the week finally got back to me. It turned out this person could get me in with Fundación Abril, an NGO founded by Oscar Olivera, one of the leaders of the Water War. I visited Fundación Abril on Friday morning, then, and walked away with a greatly expanded vision and a list of phone numbers and book titles that might help me out in my search. I spent the afternoon at the offices of AAPS, a government agency that helps address claims made by citizens against water vendors.

It was frustrating that, after spending some parts of the week with a dearth of things to do—particularly Thursday morning—it was Friday afternoon, and I had just run into a gold mine of opportunities. For example, I swung by the offices of CTRL, the committee of elected officials who license water vendors. The people working there were really excited to hear about my project, and asked me to come by on Monday—but, of course, I had to decline, taking instead just their pamphlets and e-mail addresses. Still, I am glad to have gotten this information before I left Cochabamba, and I think the various people I met will turn out to still be very valuable resources as I move forward from Davidson.

Overall, there’s no doubt in my mind my trip was a success. The end result will hopefully be an honors thesis around 100 pages in length, something that I can really be proud of. What that’s worth, I don’t know. My greatest hope for it is that in some small way what I’ve learned in Cochabamba can be re-transmitted, its lessons learned and applied elsewhere, for the human good.

Hayden Higgins ’12

P.S. If you have three hours to spare, consider Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. For fans of his The Thin Red Line, the voice-over is still there, as are the existential questions. Of course there are no flashy war scene, but violence is still a theme, if now symbolic or vocal. As a work that chronicles what it means to grow up and confront the world, its ambition is without peer; if that’s not your gig, at least kick back and let the amazing cinematography and classical score bring you in.

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