“I appreciated being immersed in a community completely different from my own, and the opportunity to learn a second language, which is something I continue to be able to strengthen… I know of no other program where that type of local connection can be developed and maintained.”
Tyler Retzlaff participated in Serving and Learning Together (SALT) from 2016 to 2017. SALT is a year-long, cross-cultural service experience that immerses participants into another culture and lends opportunities to serve in a variety of positions. Types of positions include education, agriculture, health care, information technology, peace, and more.
Tyler lived in Mexico City with a host family and worked as a Community Development Assistant. The majority of his projects focused in the southern Mexican states of Guerrero and Oaxaca. He recently shared about his SALT experience.
“During my time on SALT I had the opportunity to support truly grassroots projects. I visited with dozens of farmers across southern Mexico and learned about their struggles, and ways in which Centro de Estudios Ecumenicos, with MCC’s support was able to improve their livelihoods.
My role also included supporting Indigenous communities in asserting their rights to their land, culture, and languages. We walked alongside communities whose territory was being threatened by “mega projects" such as mines, dams, petrochemical plants, and more. We also supported an Indigenous community who was working to assert their rights to Indigenous governance according to their own values and traditions. It is now the first municipality in the state of Guerrero to have achieved this right.
Although I would not say I played a role in these monumental achievements, I learned an incredible amount about topics I knew nothing about. This could not have happened without participating in SALT.”
“The learning curve is steep, everything from language to cultural customs, to the actual work environment I was in, was an uphill climb. I connected strongly with my host family and my work environment was a lot of fun, however loneliness can be a reality on SALT. Homesickness and missing your own language, customs, and way of life can be draining. Connecting with people at home occasionally through Skype was a huge source of encouragement that allowed me to push through the year.”
“SALT is a year of extensive growth and learning. I was forced into realities that I could not have experienced if I had not been partnered with the organization I was with. I got to see and learn about incredible work. I appreciated being immersed in a community completely different from my own and the opportunity to learn a second language which is something I continue to strengthen. I have established a strong connection to Mexico through my host family, whom I have built a deep relationship with and have visited twice since my time on SALT. I know of no other program where that type of local connection can be developed and maintained.”
Recommendations for anyone interested in participating in SALT
“I think it is important to be aware of the reality that you are going into a context that is not your own. You are an outsider and depending on the context, there may be apprehension from the community you are entering. A prospective SALTer should be focused on learning through immersion in their community of destination and should not focus on what they may or may not have to offer them.”
Applications for the August 2020-July 2021 SALT term are now being accepted! If you are interested in learning more about SALT, visit: https://mcc.org/get-involved/serve/volunteer/salt