Commencement 2012: Life-Changing Semester Caps off Life-Changing Four Years

May 15, 2012

DeAngela Alexander, the first member of her family to attend college, spent spring semester in Honduras working with the group Organization for Youth Empowerment as part of her social work placement. When the Culpeper resident graduates this weekend, she’ll be taking the experience abroad — as well as her experiences on the Mary Baldwin campus — that have built confidence she’ll need as she prepares for the working world. This is DeAngela in her own words:

Coming in as a first generation college student, my only goal was to graduate on time. If anyone had asked me during freshman year if I saw myself studying abroad or interning abroad I would have entertained the idea but my lack of confidence in my abilities would have compelled me to respond by saying, “no way.” Declaring a major in social work has to be one of the best decisions that I have made as a student. As a social work major (taking courses such as Interviewing, Diverse Cultures, and Social Work Practice) I grew as a helping professional; somewhere along the way I also managed to develop more confidence in my knowledge, skills, and abilities. The Mary Baldwin social work program has provided me with various opportunities for growth, and the most recent (and by far the most unforgettable) would be my internship with the Organization for Youth Empowerment (OYE) in El Progreso, Yoro, Honduras.

DeAngela Alexander in Honduras

After hearing various presentations from upper-class women who thoroughly enjoyed their experiences, meeting the co-founder for the OYE, Ana Luisa Ahern, and being encouraged by Associate Professor of Social Work Mary Clay Thomas to follow my heart, I knew Honduras was the place for me to be. I desired deep within my heart to work with OYE; I had many reservations in the fall of 2012 about my decision to leave the country, but going through the interview process with OYE’s volunteer coordinator and being accepted gave me the confidence I needed to make the next steps (apply for my passport and a book a round trip flight).

The three-and-a-half months that I lived in Honduras were well spent. I gained many great experiences living in a country that I knew almost nothing about; I also experienced many challenges while working with OYE that helped me develop as a professional, and after leaving the country I was able to also think about the most difficult and most fulfilling aspect of living there.

Spending time in Honduras I hoped to gain a better understanding of a country that was different from my own. My world view has been so small, and having the experience of traveling outside of Virginia has opened my eyes and allowed me to see that there is “life” outside of my home state. I do think that I achieved this, and I now have the desire to travel and see other parts of the world.

The greatest challenge that I faced working with OYE was the language barrier. In the beginning I was fearful that my lack of knowledge for the Spanish language would hinder the work that I wanted to do while interning. I am proud to say that I was able to work effectively with OYE staff members who only spoke Spanish, and their patience with me helped me to do so. I also took Spanish classes with Michael Solis (field supervisor and director of marketing and communications for OYE), which gave me the confidence that I needed to practice speaking the language.

The most difficult aspect of living in Honduras was being away from all that was familiar. I tried to remind myself that those things (family, friends, school, work, etc.) would all still be there once I returned. I also received advice from local Hondurans to just enjoy myself while I could. After all, I would only be returning to school work, and the harsh reality of becoming a working adult come May.

Overall, the most rewarding part of living in Honduras are the bonds that I formed, and this intense sense of being able to do whatever I want in life; seeing people on a day-to-day basis work so hard for what they desire (whether it is for a basic need — such as food — or the hope to create a better life for their family) was inspiring.

My time in El Progreso gave me the confidence that I needed to enter into the next phase of my life. Soon I will be graduating, and I am overwhelmed knowing that my initial goal to graduate on time is coming to pass and that I also have grown to be a true Boldly Baldwin woman.