By Grecia Ramirez Avila, Guatemala
My name is Grecia, and it has been 24 days since I arrived in the United States to start a new chapter of my life, one that in the future, I will be referring to as “before the Professional Fellows Experience” and “after.”
To start this little explanation, I would like to present myself, I am a mother of two beautiful children, Rodrigo who is 7 years old and María Alejandra, 3 years old, and this adventure started one day after my husband’s birthday, so you can imagine, the difficult goodbye that I experienced at the airport. And since I am a woman, the stigma of leaving home, even if it is only for six weeks, began the very first day when I received the notice that I have been selected, between the congratulations and the “but you are leaving your husband and kids to their own faith”, which was a great over reaction from people, my head and heart were both excited but pretty confused, despite knowing that this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity. I miss them a great deal, but we have face time calls every day and we will be back together soon; as a mom, I am grateful that I took a time on my own to grow, learn and miss them so when I hug them again, it will be even more appreciated.
Back at home I am the Trade Center Manager of the largest bi-national chamber of commerce in the country, The American Chamber of Commerce, a place where I have learned and grown a great deal. Not only my day-to-day job, which I am very passionate about; but all the great leaders that I have gotten to know there have given me new perspectives about how private sector can become a great contribution for society and for equal opportunities, therefore, I applied for this fellowship looking to find another way to come up with a small part of a much needed solution to avoid irregular migration.
Luckily, I was appointed with a great host organization, at The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission not only has everyone made a great effort to make me feel welcome, but they have given me tools and provided new perspectives on how to contribute from a different point of view. Their approach in looking for sustainability with all their allies and everywhere they have an impact on, has been great to watch. They have given me great support but also, they have allowed me to feel part of their mission, by letting me join their meetings and introducing me to different people and organizations, the team has created the perfect learning atmosphere.
We are well into the schedule now, and so far, I have met with great people. For instance, I could join the Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce “Rise and Shine” event, where they celebrated how the sport industry has made and impact in economics of the region. It was great to chat, do networking and create contacts that will be helpful with my job with entrepreneurs back at home. One of the highlights of this networking experience was having a meeting with the executive director of the chamber, we chat longer that it was supposed to, since we were both invested in the conversation about best practices for our chambers and the work, and effect in financial sustainability that company members can create in the community.
As well, I had the joy of spend a whole day the Latino Development Council on the Springfield area, they do an amazing job in creating good conditions for entrepreneurs, especially for minority groups. We were visiting a coffee shop that was about to be inaugurated and we noticed that they are still learning how to prepare coffee, and since there is another Guatemalan fellow who is part of this program, who is a certified barista, I was able to make the connection with the owner of the coffee shop and this friend who will be providing small tips on how to make a great coffee for the staff to help them out. It felt amazing to help in a small way.
I have more of these examples of all the learning opportunities that are happening during these 6 weeks, but I if get excited, I wouldn’t finish writing. I would just finish by saying that I wouldn’t change any of this experience.
All opinions expressed by the program participants are their own and do not represent nor reflect official views from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State, or of the Institute for Training and Development, Inc.