From the Field: Global Perspectives

Aislinn Betancourt, ’16, reporting from Cañete, Chile

This semester, Innovate@BCSW is following the experiences of four BC Social Work students who have embarked on international field education placements in Latin America, Europe, and Africa. Stay tuned during the spring for ongoing updates through student-crafted blog posts, video diaries, and photography.


Blog 1: The Fifteen Second Commute
By Aislinn Betancourt

The offices of the Centro de Innovacion y Transferencia Tecnologica Agropecuaria (CITTA) in Cañete, Chile.

The offices of the Centro de Innovacion y Transferencia Tecnologica Agropecuaria (CITTA) in Cañete, Chile.

It’s true. I have a fifteen second commute. If you’re sitting on the T right now, late, freezing, or both, you’re jealous. I know. What do you have, like an hour, hour and a half to go? I’m sorry. Let’s see if I can at least keep you entertained.

The truth is, the fastest thing happening in my life right now is my commute. I live on a farm in the middle of nowhere (aka Cañete, Chile) and life is, well, unhurried. On my first day of work at the Centro de Innovacion y Transferencia Tecnologica Agropecuaria (CITTA) I took 5 coffee breaks. Not because I wanted to – I don’t even drink coffee – but because I was practically dragged by my right ear. The first one happened just five seconds after my fifteen second commute.

Eduardo (Boss/Host Father): Vamos a tomar café! 

Everyone at the office (in unison, for dramatic effect): Si! A tomar café! No se puede trabajar sin café!

Me: Oh, uh, [smile] si, como no. [smile]

We literally just had coffee. I was literally just standing in his kitchen drinking coffee with him and his family, but sure! Let’s get coffee.

I can’t tell you how glad I am that I did. For the next thirty minutes we sat and talked about everything. Pedro, the veterinarian, grumbled on about some hens that kept producing brown eggs (the goal is blue eggs, folks!). Claudia, the secretary, postulated that she might purchase a cancer insurance plan because cancer seemed to be “a la moda” (to be sure, Claudia is our resident hypochondriac). Eduardo, the director of the center, engaged me in a profound political analysis of presidential hopeful Donald Trump. Mari, the beloved cook, talked about what it felt like to grow old against the backdrop of mounting ageism. When I returned to my desk, I thought for a moment about what I would have missed had I skipped that coffee break – but then, like a good little American, I got back to work.

Lago Lanalhue is located in Betancourt's "backyard."

Lago Lanalhue is located in Betancourt’s “backyard.”

The rest of the day was not without its interruptions (four more coffee breaks, remember!) and each time, the workaholic in me – or rather, the socialworkaholic – recoiled in horror. Can’t you see I’m trying to make a difference here?! Don’t you know that this e-mail I’m writing is literally going to save the world?! If it sounds absurd, it’s because it absolutely is. To be certain, life-crushing workloads are a real thing (and I don’t intend to minimize that) but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m not really talking about work-life balance either – that’s something totally different. What I’m addressing is this weird phenomena that allows social workers to compartmentalize our lives: to be liberal in our ideologies of love, compassion, and justice, but frugal with our time.

We run ourselves ragged for the cause. We skip breaks, we eat lunch at our desks – look at you, you’re doing it right now! We keep our eyes glued to our computer screens. We miss opportunities to truly connect with people because the injustices of the world supposedly require us to be laser-focused on doing whatever it is we’re doing between the working hours of 9 am and 5 pm. Well I’m here to tell you that we’ve got it all wrong. In the few days I’ve been at CITTA, I’ve found that simply taking time to enjoy the humanness in others has amplified the humanity within myself. Yes, the cause needs all of the blood, sweat, and tears I can muster, but more than anything, the cause needs me in the present. It needs me to slow down. It needs me to be nourished by personal relationships. It needs me to be curious, and kind, and open to interruptions. It needs me to stop caring about the time that my fifteen second commute saves me and start appreciating the joy my thirty minute coffee breaks add – not because I’m lazy, not because I don’t take my work seriously, but because the cause – a more whole, happy, and just humanity – requires me to reach out to others even (and especially) when it’s perhaps the last thing on earth I have time to do.

Holy run-on sentence, but you get the point.

Aislinn Betancourt is spending the semester working at the Centro de Innovacion y Transferencia Tecnologica Agropecuaria (CITTA) in Cañete, Chile.

One of CITTA's greenhouses.

One of CITTA’s greenhouses.

A vegetable garden.

A vegetable garden.


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