Team STARRS is finally back in the USA at Smith College working like hard stingrays to prepare our presentation on Thursday afternoon, tie up loose ends, and readjust to America. We arrived at 3 am on Monday morning to Smith College with only 12 bags of luggage this time. Each flight we took we brought a heft of rain with us. We left the runway in San Pedro to grey clouds and once we were up in the air it started raining. When we walked to the runway in Belize City it was raining cats and dogs with water up to our ankles which made for a funny scene prancing through the rain with our carry-on luggage. And finally when we landed in Atlanta and Hartford the same heavy rain accompanied us.
I have not adjusted to the states yet; there are moments when island air gets under my skin and I miss the caked on layers of sand to antsy toes, or the way golf cart and boat engine fumes cling to air making the humid air taste like adventure. I hold a certain sadness in my belly right now like the waves hold home in their folds. Underneath the Massachusetts moon, I desperately listen out for the night waves crashing over the reef and realize that New England cicadas and cars are no substitute for children’s laughter and salty waters. I miss the way my feet dangled heavy over the dock at night reaching towards the stingrays playing in the water. Even the ocean has a name whispered sweet, low. The air was most fresh at night when boat engines were still for the night. Only the rocks hold still on an island, for when the sun is up the island stirs with familiar faces sharing moments of extreme generosity between friends and family.
I remember the week we were at Smith before we left and we received ample emails saying how wonderful this opportunity is and how life changing it is. This is an understatement. This program at it’s core reinforces the vision Smith College has for its students to experience an array of challenges outside of our comfort zone, develop the skills as a leader and critical thinker, and to give back to a community different from ours. There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t feel so fortunate to be in such a safe and welcoming community with friends I hope to stay in contact with for a lifetime. Aside from the wonderful experience I have had with local citizens and the other STARRS members, ultimately the children in San Pedro are what hold this program together. There were so many conversations I had with some of the team members in which we discussed how wonderful the kids are. How they are truly kids who spend hours kicking old soccer balls or coconuts on the beach and streets, explore the ocean on snorkel, or hang out on the back of golf carts laughing until their parents beg them to wash up for bed.
While I am glad to be back in Massachusetts where peanut butter is affordable and all my clothes are not perpetually sandy, I have to admit that my heart and a big piece of me is still in San Pedro. I don’t know how to describe to people how my trip is, I find myself feeling extremely inadequate in my ability to articulate how incredible this experience was. As I adjust back to the states and anticipate all the conversations I will have about my trip, I have to say I have never felt happier and more confident in myself than I did in San Pedro.
For all the support from friends and family, especially those who were patient with my communication with them I thank you so much. To the professors and all the participants who made this trip possible, my sincerest gratitude for your guidance and support. And for all my stingrays (team STARRS) thank you for being you and for bringing such fierce tenacity for the work we have done, and all the bravery and fun in doing it.
-Elena Karlsen-Ayala ‘16