Chelsey Baturin, Cameroon
Almost an entire year after leaving Cameroon and my mind continues to bring me back to the week-long, national university games in Ngaoundéré where I competed with my school’s dance team against dozens of other Cameroonian universities. We danced from 8am to 6pm every day in the boiling heat with little water, little food, and no place to shower except for a behind a tree. My dance team’s President didn’t believe I would make it to the end of the week, but as I endured through the heat and dehydration, crammed into one room on foam mattresses with dozens of other team members, I realized that I wasn’t just having a “cultural experience,” I was in fact supporting and be supported by my teammates, suffering with them, laughing and growing with them, all of which has blessed me with an incredibly transformative life experience. The Middlebury program’s unique design encouraged me to fully immerse myself in the welcoming Cameroonian society, allowing me to develop intimate, lifelong relationships with my Cameroonian friends and family. These relationships are truly what opened up my eyes to the reality of Cameroonian culture I discovered through the inside jokes, the political and religious discussions, family dynamics, the economic hardships (or not), and one of the most beautiful discoveries: how specifically different American culture is from that of Cameroon, but how essentially the same individuals, despite our cultures, really are.