From Bogota to Washington, D.C.: Making a Dream a Reality

Karen Avila, President's Intern

I remember the exact moment when my university’s staff proposed creating a volunteer student group to work hand-in-hand with Partners of the Americas (Partners), an international organization in Washington D.C. Partners brings together volunteers, development professionals, governments, businesses, and – most recently – higher education institutions to implement grassroots development projects and cultural exchanges across the America.

It was November 2014. Nine students and I met at OMA – a coffee shop at the university – to discuss the possibility of forming a Partners student chapter. We all had backgrounds in the Vicerrectoría de Promoción y Desarrollo Humano (VPDH)(Vice president’s Office of Promotion and Human Development) and recognized ourselves as leaders and agents of social change. We decided to say yes, unsure of what lay ahead but wanting the opportunity to develop volunteer service projects in our community with the support and guidance of Universidad de La Salle’s staff. In February 2015, Universidad de La Salle was officially recognized as a student chapter.

That day, I took the initiative to become  student chapter president. Being president has been one of the biggest challenges I have confronted and I feel proud to have accepted it. For example, I lead a group of leaders and it can be tough to find a balance of power. It can also be difficult to mobilize everyone to meet at the same time, when people have conflicting schedules and obligations. I have to thank my friends for their support and trust; they have contributed to my leadership skills.

The group of volunteers and visionaries that I belong to has experienced large transformations over the past couple years, such as chapter members graduating. In one case, one graduating chapter member who had been involved in several campus volunteer projects was hired by the university and became our new advisor. Everything has been a collective learning process; we have learned to work together, solve our differences, say goodbye to people who left and say hello to new members. Above all, we focus our efforts on helping others, starting with our university and then expanding to our country, Colombia. Our student chapter hopes to educate students at Universidad de La Salle about international affairs and provide them with opportunities to improve their English.

Last September, I began researching how to further my engagement with Partners. It was then that I learned about its President’s Internship Program (PIP), a position held in the organization’s Washington, D.C. office. I began my application process and was notified of my acceptance for a summer internship this past March.

I arrived in the U.S. in the beginning of June for my two-month internship with great expectations. Now, I am here and it is like a dream. I’m working as a part of this big family. I say ‘big family’ because that is how I feel every single day. Partners’ staff don’t just work - they smile, create, develop and truly support the organization’s mission. I have started to understand how the three words “connect, serve, and change lives” work together harmoniously.

Working for a NGO in the U.S. has been incredible. As a President’s intern, I am attending events related to the Cuban economy, international volunteer service, and the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, as well as participating in staff meetings, expanding my network, and translating documents. I also have one-on-one classes with Steve Vetter, Partners’ President and CEO. I don't know if everyone understands the magnitude of this opportunity for me, although I'm sure my classmates do.

Although two months isn't long, it's enough time to create new goals, be spontaneous, discover new aspects of life, and fill myself with new experiences. I have always been a person with goals, and I’ve been very blessed by the life that God has allow me to live, my parents who have made every effort to train me to be a well-rounded, honest, and intelligent person, and my wonderful family and hundreds of friends who I have met in many places, contexts, and countries.

I truly can’t wait to keep exploring this city and its surroundings, meeting as many people as I can who can help me both as a person and as a professional, attending interesting events, taking leadership classes, learning as much as I can and planning for the future of this wonderful life.

I encourage you, every single young student, to get in the water and dive in the deep sea of unknown opportunities!