I never thought that my international exchange semester would spark the beginning of a lifelong passion for international affairs and seeing the world. It’s funny how we sometimes see ourselves incapable of achieving what we truly dream of, but still have an impulse to go for what genuinely inspires us. Never settle in a comfort zone when life starts on its edge.
That is the most valuable lesson I took from my exchange semester abroad in Granada, Spain, and winning The Gilman Scholarship to study there. The best part of breaking through my comfort zone was that, once I achieved what seemed impossible to me, I got a thirst for more far-fetched, demanding goals; like having a positive and meaningful impact, not just where I live, but in the world as well.
Then, 2 years later
I had the the honour of going to Trinidad and Tobago for an Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminar (Alumni TIES), for Alumni in Action for Resilient Communities: Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Response. There I represented Puerto Rico and the Department of State Gilman Scholarship as an Ambassador. It was one of the most gratifying and humbling experiences of my life.
The seminar was composed of forty-six international exchange alumni from 19 different countries in the Caribbean and the United States. It was hosted by the U.S Embassy Port of Spain, sponsored by the Department of State, and implemented by World Learning, a non-profit organisation that empowers individuals throughout the world with educational programs.
According to the Department of State, it was the “first exchange alumni workshop to share efforts in emergency and disaster preparedness throughout the Caribbean and Puerto Rico”.
It was an intense week of seminars and workshops that covered many areas of emergency management. To name a few, there was Crisis Communications (where I spoke as a panelist), Capacity Building, Ecosystem Restoration, Energy Management, Distribution and Restoration; and networking sessions with emergency management experts, exchange alumni, and State Department Officers.
As a Digital Communications Specialist for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), this experience granted me the opportunity to learn how other islands in the Caribbean prepare, respond and recover from natural disasters. Furthermore, the seminar also allowed me to share with them my own lessons and best practices too.
I collaborated on a panel with a Senior Information Officer from the Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), and met the Director of Trinidad Emergency Management Agency (TEMA). Went to the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management of Trinidad and Tobago, and met it Regional Coordinator, who gave us a crash-course on how the office responds to small-scale and national natural disasters. One of the many things I learned there was that Trinidad and Tobago’s National Emergency Response Overview was made with assistance from FEMA.
As to my international affairs interests though, the seminar exceeded my expectations as well, and further convinced me to pursue this line of work. The AlumniTIES Seminar allowed me to experience firsthand what the U.S Department of State does to create and preserve international relations. I had the honor to meet, learn from, and interact daily with Foreign Affairs Officers from both the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
The first day alone we were received by the Ambassador (Chargé d’Affairs) of the U.S Embassy of Port of Spain, where we even had the pleasure of dining later in the week with Fulbright Scholars, exchange alumni from the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI), and more.
The amount of talent, devotion, and intelligence accumulated between the people participating in the seminar, and those who hosted us, was immeasurable. Once I left Trinidad and Tobago, I had a much better understanding of the Caribbean’s beautiful diversity and resemblance.
Again, it was one of the most humbling, inspirational seminars I’ve had the honour of participating in. Being part of that group of people made me realise that I can strive to make a difference beyond Puerto Rico’s shores as well.
Everyone who attended the seminar will now compete for a grant that will be used to make a project for disaster preparedness or response, and I really want to work with the friends made there.
If natural disasters brought us together, the solutions to the hardships we currently face will unite us as a stronger, more resilient Caribbean.