WHS junior volunteers in Paraguay
Earlier this spring Woodbury resident Britney Schopf, a junior at Woodbury High School, was looking for some sort of opportunity to go abroad with an exchange program.
After looking through several programs Schopf heard of the organization Amigos de las Américas (AMIGOS,) which is a service learning organization, from a family friend and it seemed like a great opportunity.
"It's not exactly what I was looking for," she said, "but it sounded amazing."
Schopf spent eight weeks this summer volunteering in Paraguay as part of the AMIGOS program.
"It was the best summer of my life," she said.
Schopf said she was drawn to the AMIGOS program because she wanted to better her Spanish language skills.
"When I left I didn't really know Spanish at all," said Schopf, who is in her third year of Spanish. "I knew grammar, but conversations, I wouldn't be able to do that.
"So, I really did want to learn Spanish because before I left I wasn't that functional."
Additionally, Schopf said she wanted to meet new people.
The program, she said, is "about building relationships and improving local communities in Latin America."
Program volunteers lead a variety of community projects in the areas of community health, youth empowerment and environmental health.
Schopf's team led a community health project where they built latrines.
Schopf said the group built a total of 24 latrines.
"I was really scared at first," she said. "I didn't even know what a latrine was."
Additionally, the group of volunteers educated families and children about nutrition, hygiene and disease prevention.
In addition to building the latrines, Schopf's group also helped with the construction of a soccer field in Paraguay.
While in Paraguay, Schopf stayed with a host family, which was a new experience for her, she said.
"I don't want to say it's not nice conditions," she said, "but it's not what I'm accustomed to here."
Schopf said her host family had cows and chickens on their property.
During her eight-week stay in Paraguay, Schopf said the biggest challenges were communicating and being homesick.
However, Schopf said her Spanish gradually improved the longer she was there.
"You can't go down there and not learn because it's how you communicate," she said. "I'm not fluent or anything now, but I can make my way through."
Schopf said the highlight of the trip was the people she met.
"They were so nice, they were so welcoming," she said.
Schopf said the Paraguayan people opened her eyes to just how friendly people can be to one another.
"It's not like I was mean before," she said, "but really it is so easy to be nice."
Schopf said she would like to travel more after her experience in Paraguay, perhaps even study abroad.
However, Schopf said she would like to stick with Latin America.
"I definitely want to travel more now," she said. "I want to stay in Spanish-speaking countries so I can keep up with it.
"It's good to know Spanish because a lot of people speak it."
Schopf said she will carry her experiences in Paraguay with her always.
"I made so many connections and relationships," she said. "It was amazing to me how quickly you could get along with someone even if you could barely communicate."
Visit www.amigoslink.org for more information on the AMIGOS organization.