What made you decide to participate in the HULA program?
I decided to participate in HULA because I knew that this trip was my best opportunity to see all the different places for less money than I could by myself. To get to see Patagonia, Easter Island, Machu Picchu, The Amazon Rainforest and all the other places in Chile, Peru, and Argentina, with my friends while still taking a full semester of classes along the way at that price was a no-brainer decision. I also knew that the directors, Jeremy and Katie, would plan a trip that was far better than I could ever plan for myself. And they did. They planned a dream trip with opportunities that even prior HULA groups did not get to experience, and I know that they will continue to find cool things for future groups.
What was it like attending HULA?
There are not very many words adequate enough to describe a trip that takes you from dream location to dream location with your friends while learning mind-blowing information in your classes along the way. Each minor trip we took is a major trip destination for anyone else. It will forever be my dream trip. There are no other words.
What was it like living in Latin America?
Living in Latin America was cool because I did not know much about the region, culture, and language going in. Most people assume that it is like going to Mexico, because they speak the same language, but even the most beginner Spanish speakers, like me, could tell instantly that the Spanish was completely different. Experiencing the cuisine and culture for the first time was so cool. Just imagine discovering a new world. I felt like an explorer.
What did you learn?
It might sound cliche but at HULA I learned, to a much greater extent, what it means to be human. Of course, I also learned Spanish and about the history, culture and beauty of every location we visited, but between all these lessons we frequently discussed questions about our complex humanity. I learned to ask two crucial questions: “What does it mean to be human?” and “What does it mean to live intentionally?” I learned that to be a human means to appreciate glaciers and the rain forest, but to also figure out how to make sure future generations see them too. I learned that to be a human means to communicate with people, but to also learn someone else’s language and ask them about themselves. Ultimately, I learned that to be a human means to try to be better than human but also to realize that the best humans are still humans at best. And in the end, you do not have to be wise to talk about what it means to be human. You just have to live life and then wonder about it.
How did you grow?
I grew to ask better questions. I knew that asking good questions was key, but the key to what? It took me the whole semester to figure it out. I grew to know that you ask good questions to try to understand the world. You ask good questions to figure out how to live life in the right way. You ask good questions to live intentionally. And to live intentionally is to constantly avoid what is normal to do. To live intentionally is to seek a new perspective every day. To live intentionally is to seek answers to the hard questions. To live intentionally is to dive into pain itself and learn from it. To live intentionally is to listen to people’s stories. To live intentionally is to know that the quest to live intentionally never really ends. To live intentionally is to seek to be fully human until we are not human anymore.
How were you challenged?
I was challenged in a myriad of ways. Learning Spanish by immersion was very challenging because most of the time I did not know what was happening, and trying to translate every word from a beginner’s perspective took a lot of brain-power and was tiring. It was challenging to be away from the people I love for that long. It was challenging to deal with the pressure of making the most of a dream experience. The coolest challenge presented to us was in Patagonia. Our tour guide in the Torres Del Paine National Park was teaching us about the park and its history, and natural beauty when he suddenly got very somber. He told us that the famous Patagonian glaciers were melting (due to the very thin ozone layer over most of southern Latin America) and that, in less than 20 years, they will be gone. He looked us in the eyes and told us about the deadly politics in Chile. He challenged us, young US Americans, members of the most powerful nation on the planet, to take our powerful influence on the world as young voters seriously to preserve the beauty of the Patagonian glaciers. He said that his corrupt government would do nothing about it because they are too busy murdering for power — his father was murdered because of his political affiliation — and that it was up to us to save Patagonia. Challenge accepted.
What was your favorite aspect of HULA?
My favorite aspect of HULA was trusting Jeremy and Katie to find some unique opportunity for us wherever we were. Whenever we would go on a trip, they would tell us about the coolest places to eat, the most obscure yet cool activities to do at that particular place. For example, Jeremy talked to the people at the Amazon resort into making the piranha fishing excursion affordable for the whole group to go. I just learned to trust Jeremy and Katie to make the trip the best it could possibly be, no matter where we were.
What is one standout memory from HULA?
I can’t decide. Some of my favorite memories were:
- surfing and sandboarding in Con Con
- Participating in ping pong tournaments at Castillo
- fishing for piranhas in the rainforest
- SCUBA diving on Easter Island
- eating Argentinian steak
- riding the train into the Sacred Valley in Machu Picchu
- climbing an actual volcano in Arequipa
- seeing Kendrick Lamar
- Sitting front row at Lollapalooza Santiago
- white water rafting in Argentina
- eating at a 5-star world-renowned restaurant
- learning how to roast coffee at a local shop in Arequipa
- meeting people who live on a floating island
- seeing penguins and hiking through Patagonia
- playing soccer with local Peruvians
What do you wish people knew about HULA?
The directors, Jeremy and Katie, are the reason why the trip was amazing. They felt more like friends going on the trip with you than directors that are in charge of you, while still emitting the authority that made the trip not fall apart. They explored with us, mentored us, laughed with us, taught us their wisdom and cried with us. They pulled out our deepest thoughts and innermost energy to squeeze out everything that God was hiding for us in Latin America.
What would you say to others thinking about attending the HULA program?
I would say that the experience of going abroad and seeing the world is completely worth the money, even if you have to fund all of it yourself. Every dollar is spent very wisely. Seeing the most beautiful structures, feeling the breeze on the most remote of islands, climbing the highest of volcanoes, diving to the depths of oceans, and talking to the most beautiful of people are all activities that honestly are so worth so much more than a green piece of paper. Do not let money get in the way of experiencing deep humanity.
How do you see the world differently after studying abroad?
My world view has expanded. I know more about the history of the world and how my ancestors have actually affected the world order. I use that information to best guide my decisions for the future. I know that the things that I do with my money, the products that I choose to support, the extent to which I participate in politics directly affect people across the world. I can see them. I will remember them. Every day since I completed the coursework required for HULA, I have tried to frame my life decisions behind the lens of two questions: “What does it mean to be human?” and “What does it mean to live intentionally?” These questions, when best pursued, can lead to a life that is pleasing to me, those around me whom I love, and, most importantly, God.
Easton Davis attended the spring 2019 Harding in Latin America (HULA) program.