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BWAP 2023: From Learning to Living ~ Lauren Pettis

I have taken Spanish classes in school for seven years, but the first time I had to translate for our group in Puerto Rico, I looked like a deer in headlights. In that moment, I learned very quickly that there is a big gap between learning something and living it. I had studied Spanish for so many years, but when I was fully immersed in it, applying what I learned in context proved to be challenging. That isn’t to say that it didn’t get easier. As the week went on, I continued to feel more and more comfortable. Some of the highlights of the trip were my moments of understanding and listening. Being able to understand the language, even if it was in bits and pieces, helped me to feel like I was catching a glimpse of what life is like in Puerto Rico. For example, sitting in a church service that was completely in Spanish, I was so focused on trying to understand that my head was beginning to hurt, but those brief moments where things began to make sense just made me want to listen even more.

The contrast between learning and living something was also prevalent in our group’s understanding of Puerto Rico’s status. Before we left for our trip, we learned about Puerto Rico’s status as a territory of the United States, but the implications of that were not clear until we had the opportunity to listen to the people we met talk about what that has meant to them, from the way they lack any deciding power in Congress to the delays in shipments of essential hurricane relief supplies because of the Jones Act, which requires shipments to Puerto Rico to first be brought to the mainland US before they can be shipped to Puerto Rico. We weren’t able to begin to conceptualize what it’s like to be in this situation until we had the opportunity to ask questions and, more importantly, listen to what people had to say. I remember listening intently to Michelle — Puerto Rico’s Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Coordinator — as she explained to us exactly what Puerto Rico means to her and feeling goosebumps creep across my arms as she said, “To me, Puerto Rico will never be a territory. Puerto Rico is my country.”

Although many of us would consider ourselves to be educated, most of us will never fully understand the consequences of the United States’ modern-day colonization of Puerto Rico. By no means are I or anyone else on the BWAP trip experts on Puerto Rico, but through living alongside and listening to the people that live there, we were able to gain so many important insights into what life is like there. Our experience taught me that the most valuable thing we can do to understand others is to ask them questions, listen to their answers, and live alongside them.

Lauren Pettis is a sophomore studying journalism and Spanish.

Read the rest of the BWAP 2023 reflections:

Laura Hyde ~ “Unexpected Connections”
Lauren Pettis ~ “From Learning to Living”
Lydia Larsen ~ “The Cost of Paradise”
Aurora Kuelbs ~ “Deep Roots”
Mei Hippe ~ “Deep Love”
Kevin Lee ~ “What the Great Commission Didn’t Tell Me”
Madelyn Peppard ~ “Three Kings Day, a Four-Day Celebration”

Learn more about our partners for BWAP 2023:

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance – Puerto Rico
Techos Pa’ Mi Gente

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