Emma Williams’s Experience at HULA

What made you decide to participate in the HULA program? 

When I was a sophomore in high school, I saw pictures on Facebook of my older friends who were doing the HULA program. I saw pictures of Patagonia, open-air markets, the beach, and the Amazon. Seeing those pictures made me start to dream about going to HULA. When I was deciding on where to go to college, my parents and I agreed that no matter where I went, I would study abroad in Latin America. When I chose to go to Harding, I filled out the application to HULA before I filled out my application to go to Harding.  

What was it like attending HULA? 

Unimaginable. Unexpected. Unbelievable. I had a few expectations going before stepping foot in Latin America, mainly seeing the same places and things that filled the pictures of previous HULA students. I expected to see the Patagonian mountains, see the Amazon rainforest, see the ocean. What I didn’t expect was to experience each place and each moment, alongside very special people. And it was with these special people that I hiked the Patagonian mountains, surfed the Pacific Ocean in Chile, danced on the floating islands of Lake Titicaca, succeeded—and failed—in speaking Spanish, climbed multiple volcanoes in Peru, played soccer with our Peruvian brothers and sisters, scubadived in Easter Island, rafted the rivers of Argentina, told each other our stories, and expanded our knowledge of what it means to be human. 

What was it like living in Latin America? 

A snapshot of my day: The sun rises at 5:30 a.m., but I don’t have class until 9 a.m., so I sleep a little longer until I hear the garbage truck playing “Under the Sea” as it makes its way through the neighborhood that El Castillo is situated in. I walk outside and the air is a beautiful 65 degrees. It’s the perfect temperature every day. My fellow classmates are drinking coffee and working on homework by the pool. I grab a cup of freshly brewed coffee. Jeremy, the program director, loves coffee and always makes sure we have it. After classes, we have lunch and chapel, where we each share our story, then we are free to do whatever we want. Many of us find ourselves walking to coffee shops to do homework or exploring the city of Arequipa. At nights, we would do a multitude of things: we had ping-pong tournaments, we played soccer with the locals, we participated in Bible study with our Peruvian brothers and sisters, and, one night, I even slept over at my new friend’s house with some of the girls on the trip. As you can see, my life looked pretty normal.  But it is in the ordinary that I found the extraordinary: like when I simply looked out of my window to see the three volcanoes surrounding Arequipa, or whenever I ordered at a restaurant—in Spanish—or asked a question—in Spanish—, or when I sat on the edge of Easter Island by a Moai statue watching the sunset, or whenever I spent the night at a Peruvian friend’s house. In each of these moments, I found the ordinary encapsulated by the extraordinary.

What did you learn? 

“What does it mean to be human?” Jeremy asked us this question every day. After a unique, delicious meal in El Castillo, Arequipa, or on the Island of Amantani, Jeremy would ask: How does experiencing this meal connect us to what it means to be human? How does learning about other cultures help us be more fully human? How does trying to speak in Spanish connect us with what it means to be human? Jeremy helped us learn with intention. For one of the first times in my life, I was told why I was learning something, and the reason wasn’t to pass a class, get the grade, or write a paper, but to be more fully human and to be more fully in Christ. 

How did you grow? 

I grew in my understanding of what it means to be human. I never asked myself that question before going to HULA, but now I ask myself that question as I write my papers, read my books, and do assignments for class. I grew in my appreciation for stories and how stories connect us to a force greater than ourselves which is ultimately the story of God. All of this: the beauty of the Patagonian mountains, the ruins of Machu Picchu, the laughs of other students, the foliage in the Amazon rainforest, the prayer of a classmate, the Pacific Coast in Chile — is the presence of God, exhibited on this Earth. HULA was a pinnacle of some sorts from all the things I learned in my previous years at Harding, alongside Jeremy’s guidance and questions, I was able to deeply and fully experience the presence of God, every day while I was in Peru. How can I not walk away changed from His Presence? 

How were you challenged? 

I was challenged by learning and speaking Spanish. I had only taken one semester of Spanish before I went to HULA, but by the end of the trip I was able to communicate with the people of Latin America, as they graciously and kindly listened to my fumbling attempts of speaking. It is difficult to learn a language, but knowing another language and communicating in another language is one of the most beneficial academic endeavors. Jonathan Hanegan, a missionary in Argentina, told our group that speaking in someone’s first language is speaking in someone’s heart language. It was really cool to start to speak in others’ heart language, and to continue learning Spanish now that I am back in the USA. 

What was your favorite aspect of HULA? 

My favorite aspect of HULA is the adventure integrated with intentionally living out the gospel. Jeremy was always teaching us to seize every experience, and for us to allow the experience to connect us deeper with what it means to be more fully human—to experience the world with a deeper appreciation and love. There was never a week where I didn’t go on some kind of adventure. One week I’d be doing my homework on the bus on the way to Con-Con where we would go surfing, and the next week I’d be riding a bike on the paths of Easter Island. Another week I would be climbing Misti, an 19,000 ft. volcano, at 15 degrees Fahrenheit, and less than a week later, I was in the Amazon, sweating at 100 degrees Fahrenheit and full humidity. Each week looked completely different than the next.

What is one standout memory from HULA? 

One of my favorite memories from HULA was climbing a 19,875 ft. volcano named Chachani alongside two of my best friends, Emma and Madalyn. We started our trek at 3 a.m., hiking through the bitter cold and snow to reach the almost 20,000 ft. summit, seven hours later. We hiked Chachani towards the end of our time in Peru, so the climb became a time of reflection for me. I reflected on the places we had seen, the things we did, but most importantly the people I did them alongside: the Daggetts, the Blairs (visiting faculty), my best friends, fellow Harding students who were strangers but now friends, Indira, Paty, and so many other Peruvians who welcomed us with open arms. And there I was, having one of my last adventures in Peru, barely able to breathe—because of the elevation and the emotions climbing up my throat—alongside Peruvians and US Americans. I reached the top and embraced both Madalyn and Emma. We did it. We had climbed this mountain. We had studied abroad in a foreign country for three months. We had experienced a trip of a lifetime. 

What do you wish people knew about HULA?

The HULA Program is the combination of a Global Outreach program and an International Program. Studying abroad in Latin America with the Daggetts is truly the best of both worlds. Jeremy taught us how to live a missional life every day. Not only did he teach us, but he led us by example, and he allowed us to be a part of God’s mission in Peru. One day we would be piranha fishing in the Amazon rainforest, and the next day we would be sitting around a table, alongside our Peruvian brothers and sisters, breaking bread and eating avocado and eggs while reading the Bible. Jeremy helped the students connect more deeply, and he helped us connect to the community around us more intimately.

What would you say to others thinking about attending the HULA program?

If you are interested in living a missional life, attend the HULA program. If you love adventures, go to the HULA program. If you love good food, go to the HULA program. If you want to meet incredible people, go to the HULA program. HULA gives you an opportunity to live in God’s wild, beautiful world, while simultaneously experiencing a rich community with our Peruvian brothers and sisters. The HULA Program teaches students how to live in community, both giving and receiving, in another country. 

How do you see the world differently after studying abroad? 

How do I not see the world differently? Traveling to another country and learning another language are some of the most beneficial ways to broaden your worldview. At HULA, I was able to do both. I now have a deeper appreciation and love for Spanish, and I speak it any chance I get. Studying abroad, especially with Harding University, helps people to turn from their worldview filled with themselves, their town, their country to the world of others: other nationalities, other experiences, other nations. For God so loved the world—not just Emma Williams, or Searcy, Arkansas, or the United States of America. For God so loved the world. My world is actively growing into a world more expansive than what it once was. My world now includes my brothers and sisters in Peru, and I think about them almost every day, especially when I hear about news in Latin America, or I speak Spanish. I think about them when my day is hard, and I think about the joy they carry and the love they have for me, and that always, without fail, helps my day get a little lighter as I remember my world isn’t just about me or filled with me. 

Emma Williams attended the spring 2019 Harding in Latin America (HULA) program.

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