Laura Montes

Laura graduated from The University of Michigan in April 2016, with a Bachelor of Business Administration and a minor in Community Action. While in college, she was involved in numerous student organizations that focused on girls’ education, poverty, public health, and social justice and volunteered at a local hospital. She hopes to return to school to pursue her masters in Public Health. She was raised in Michigan but has been lucky enough to travel around the world, both volunteering and studying abroad, and loves learning about new cultures. She is an avid adventurer and loves to hike, rock climb, skydive, meditate, read, and try new things. She is passionate about empowering others and extending compassion to everyone. She is so excited for her time with BECA and cannot wait to meet her students!

Posted on Monday, November 20, 2017, 10:41 pm EST

What was the moment when you decided to stay for a second year with BECA?
This is funny question because my decision to stay with BECA for a second year was last-minute and extremely stressful. Most returning volunteers make the decision to stay for another year in late April or early May. At that time, I was one hundred percent certain that I would not be returning. In fact, I even signed a lease in Chicago and was ready to begin the next phase of my life. Around mid-May though, I kept hearing this little voice in the back of my mind asking me why not stay? I tried to ignore this voice, until one day at school, I had to hide in the teacher’s lounge after I started sobbing just imagining saying goodbye to my students. After a few weeks of little to no sleep and a lot of stress, I officially decided to stay on June 17th, just two days before I was scheduled to go home for the summer.

Though the decision to stay was not easy to make, mostly out of fear that people back home would be sad, I felt an immediate sense of peace after making it and I could not be happier with my decision. I jokingly refer to this year as my redemption year, but I truly do feel like I am getting a second chance to re-do so many things that I did “wrong” the first time around

How did your friends and family react to the news?
To be honest, my parents were sad and not initially open to the idea. As they saw me struggle to decide for weeks (and had to deal with my mental breakdowns), they realized that this was not an impulse decision. They could tell how much I was weighing my options. Ultimately, though, they could see how genuinely distraught I was over leaving. Over time, their shock and sadness turned to acceptance and admiration. I know they still miss me, but they are happy for me and know that I am living the life that I had always dreamed of. Their current joke is that I just cannot stay down here forever… I can’t make any promises though.

Describe life at ADJ for someone who has never been to Honduras.
This is not an easy task, because life at ADJ is so nuanced and every time that I think I have figured things out, I realize that I still have so much learning to do. The longer that I have been here, the more that I have realized that I am honestly clueless about so much of the behind the scenes at Amigos. Taking that into consideration, my current view of Amigos is that it is perfectly imperfect. In my time here, I have transformed from resenting things, to questioning things, to accepting things, to even being grateful for so many of the things that initially bothered me.

Overall, I would say life here is peaceful, sometimes isolating, and beautiful. For one, the campus is absolutely amazing. We live on 200 acres, surrounded by mountains and it is truly breathtaking. I can pretty much guarantee that every day I will hear at least one cow, horse, chicken, pig, and (usually in the middle of the night) a rooster. When I am most stressed out, I go for a walk in agro and am reminded at how lucky I am to be living here and how beautiful life can be.

I say isolating because I want to be honest. At times, it can feel frustrating when you want Oreos or a Diet Coke and you cannot simply just hop in your car, or walk down the street to get it. You will probably have to call a busito driver, who may or may not arrive an hour late, cross a few rivers, and avoid a herd of cows or two just to get to the nearest town. That being said, I have grown to appreciate the slow way of life here. Without the distraction of TV and shopping malls, I have taken the time to reflect and grow as a person.

Last and most importantly, life here is oh so beautiful. In an ideal world, the children here would all be living in safe homes with their families, but for some reason that is not their reality. Instead many of them have faced trauma and difficulties that I cannot imagine. However, they have found a refuge here at Amigos. Each of the 120+ kids living here are so loved by the adults who work here. I am constantly blown away by the effort and love that the padrinos and madrinas, ADJ volunteers, my coworkers, and of course Amy and Wilson (the directors) put into the kids each and every day. Whether it is making the hogar wide soccer tournament feel like the world cup, decorating the dorms with whatever resources they can find, or just giving their hundredth hug of the day, everybody here cares about the kids. It may not be perfect here, but it is pretty close.

What’s the biggest difference been between your first and second years of teaching?
For one, last year I taught first grade and this year I am teaching fourth grade. That alone is such a huge difference in terms of their English level (it’s so inspiring to see how much it has grown in a few years), the types of lessons that I plan, the emotional reactions of the students, and the relationships that I develop with them.

Beyond that though, I would say the biggest difference is my confidence level. Even on my hardest and most challenging days this year, I still feel confident and that I have things under control. Having experienced a year of teaching, I know that in the beginning, it is going to be hard and that is okay. I know that the kids are going to test me, that I am going to make mistakes, and that it takes a while to develop trust. I am not trying to rush the process, but rather come to school every day ready to love, forgive, mess up, and grow.

How have your students grown?
They have grown so much academically in their math ability, but more than that, I have seen them grow in their emotional responses and sense of autonomy. I have really been focusing on having them take ownership of their learning and I have been proud to see how much they have stepped up to my expectations.

I also have one student who I am so, so proud of for his growth this year. He has gone through some very challenging trials recently, and in the beginning of the year, he was acting out a lot. After a final straw, some of the other school staff and I had a very productive conversation with him in which we all expressed how much we loved him and how we would never turn our backs on him. Since then I have seen such a shift in both his behavior and in his sense of worth. I cannot express how much joy it fills my heart with to know that he is starting to see himself as the beautiful and caring person that I see.

What have your students taught you?
More than anything, my students have taught me the value of humility and second chances. I naively came into this year thinking that it would be a walk in the park, because it was my second year of teaching. Within hours, I realized just how wrong I was. They have been so forgiving with me though.Whether I have a lesson that flops, get overly frustrated, or cannot give them each the time that they deserve, my students always forgive me. Through them, I have learned the power of apologies and the importance of admitting my mistakes. Just because they are in fourth grade does not mean they don’t deserve an apology when I screw up.

Describe volunteering with BECA in one word.
Transformative

What is your favorite part of the day or class to teach?
I love teaching science because it was always my favorite subject growing up and I love watching the kids discover things through experiments. It is the time when I feel like they are most engaged in their learning and using their imaginations to problem solve. While I am no expert in science, I use it as a time to foster curiosity and a passion for learning.

What is a challenging aspect of being a second year volunteer?
One thing that has been a challenge and I am still trying to figure out, is finding the balance as a returner of giving advice based on my time last year and letting people make their own mistakes. My team this year is made up of mainly first year volunteers and they are absolutely amazing and doing such a great job, so I do not mean for this to be a criticism of them at all. With that in mind, I have also watched them go through the same adjustment process that took me so painstakingly long to go through last year. There are so many times when I want to remind them that things will be fine despite no wifi, or provide insight about different cultural things, but I decide it is best to sit back and allow people to go through their own growth process.

As difficult as it can be to sit back and give people the space that they need, it has also been very inspiring to see how much I have grown throughout the course of my time here.

What are your goals or dreams for the rest of the school year?
My goals are to be extremely present and to make sure that each and every one of my students feels supported and that they can trust me. The first goal to be present was a direct result of my inability to be present last year. For so much of my time, I was either looking forward to the weekends, thinking about my next trip home, or freaking out about the future. Through my decision making process, I realized that the future is so ambiguous and that every time you think you have it figured out, it changes. For this reason, I now know that it is better to take each day as it comes and trust that things will work out.

My second goal seems very intuitive and obvious as a teacher; of course you want your students to feel safe. I have realized though, that it can be so easy to become too focused on meeting objectives and standards that you forget about what is really important. Yes, I am here to teach my students English, math skills, and science, but it is so much more important to show them love and compassion.

What is on your bucket list for the rest of your time in Honduras?
While I wish I had a cool or well thought out bucket list to share, I really just want to continue to experience the culture. Last year I really wanted to travel and see various parts of Honduras. I still would not mind traveling a bit, but my focus has shifted towards the little things. Whether it is going on a pyla ride (Honduran slang for the bed of a pick-up truck), having dinner with my students family, getting to know the workers the grocery store (embarrassingly we are on a first name basis by now), or watching a movie in the Hogar, I just want to soak up every second. Thinking that I was going to have to say good-bye last year really made me appreciate how much I love my life here and I no longer take anything for granted.