Treasure Inbox: My VLB Experience in Emails [Re-post from LALA]

Hey, everyone! I wrote a blog post for the Latin American Leadership Academy about two weeks ago, and I didn’t get the chance to introduce it to you all! With school starting, academics, and other affairs, it skipped my mind to open up the door for you all to see some of my writing on other websites and organizations. I have included the links for the article, available in English, Spanish and Portuguese. I also copy and pasted the English version of the post for an easy read below! Before I present to you my writing, it’s my pleasure to share with you what the post is about, how I landed upon LALA (Latin American Leadership Academy), and why I wrote it. Lastly, I include some awesome links for Latin American students who are interested in applying to LALA at the very bottom of this post.

What is LALA and how did you come across it?

In the quest for a summer internship, I applied to LALA and accepted the offer to intern for their outreach and communications team! The Latin American Leadership Academy an educational institution whose mission is to promote sustainable economic development and strengthen democratic governance in Latin America by developing and connecting a new generation of principled and socially innovative leaders (straight up CCed from their baller website). The chance to work with a bunch of incredible people who have a passion for social justice gave me a ton of hope for the future. Although LALA is based in Colombia, I worked remotely from home in Northern Virginia. Amherst wouldn’t let me travel internationally for an internship that they were funding.

The 6th Virtual Leadership Bootcamp (VLB6) was a week-long intensive program with youth from all over Latin America. Typically, these bootcamps would be held in Colombia, but due to COVID, it was held over Zoom, making the experience feel super global. Our bootcamp was held in Colombia time (the same as US CST), so for some people, the bootcamp started super early, whereas for me, it began at 10 AM EST, making it easy to get out of bed, grab a cup of coffee and log into the first session of the day. Bootcamps are conducted in Spanish, English or Portuguese. Mine was strictly in Spanish, which allowed me to pick up on lots of the Spanish slang that isn’t taught in the classroom.

Since I was an intern, I got the chance to apply late to VLB6. Normally, applications open up many months before the bootcamps take place and are quite selective. I got lucky! The following blog post goes into more depth about the program, what the experience was like as a Colombian-American, and the biggest takeaways that will empower and motivate all leaders, regardless of age.

If you’re interested in applying to LALA, definitely do so! See it underneath this blog post. All youth ages 14-20 passionate about positive change are eligible to apply!

The Blog Post

Treasuring VLB6 comes easy when emails that I wrote to the ‘future me’ will periodically appear in my inbox. As a pillar for tracking our growth throughout the process, everyone in the Virtual Leadership Bootcamp 6 journaled. My journal ended up taking place in a text box. It has my saved but hidden diary entries, locking them up until the clock ticks and my email uncovers them. Although many scientists argue that handwritten notes make a person remember them easier, these emails are the exception. Remembering them and their VLB6 memories won’t require pen to paper.

The first Yo del Futuro email that appeared in my inbox said, “These people are so sweet. I’m so excited to be part of the LALA familia!” I remember scribbling that down on the first day of the camp, just a few hours after I logged onto the first VLB6 Zoom session. With many smiling faces around the Zoom screen, the atmosphere catered to comfort and ease. A blessing in disguise, I knew not a single participant in the camp. This meant I could greet and soak up each new person like a sponge ready to absorb all the information and energy at hand.

As its name suggests, V-camps revolutionize your leadership through an unconventional manner. Instead of igniting a passion for change, all of us already had it. What we needed was not perseverance but how to persevere. We achieved all of this in multitudes. For example, guest speakers taught us their most valuable lessons. As the camp went on, everyone gave each other the affirmations needed to avoid burnout. We had space to share our stories effectively and from the heart. All of this melted the iceberg of our greatest fears.

Instead of writing down the 5 how-to’s of being a leader that would normally take place in most leadership conferences, LALA abandoned the stereotypical retreat and had us focus on the intrapersonal. As a guest speaker shared her story, I wrote down in a Yo Del Futuro email: “You HAVE to be fearless.” 

“I love the girls in my familia!” I wrote in another email. While intent on our mission, VLB6 also had moments of casual recess. I met my ‘familia’: the three other girls, plus an incredible LALumni coach, all of whom I would get closer to throughout the week and touch base with frequently. We met periodically during the V-Camp to recollect and reflect on the day together. The breakout rooms never seemed drawn out. In fact, they always seemed too short because the discussion topics were so engaging and enjoyable. V-Camps rewire leadership in a way that no longer equates it to power, but instead encourages us to step into and own our feelings of powerlessness: uncovering the past that fuels us, admitting our faults, and recognizing the places where we have messed up. All these things make us human. The V-Camp taught us that when others see our humanity, people can relate. They can trust our work.

Although I have yet to receive my very last Yo del Futuro email, I recall writing down my insecurities. It was the word of the camp, as some said. Admittedly, I had an overshadowing insecurity during the camp: my Spanish. My accent, although native, confused many people I first met. It was undetectable. It rang of no specific country nor region. My slang came from everywhere. My language lacked the elegant verbosity of others, and I sometimes left my verbs not-well conjugated. In breakout rooms, people would ask me where I came from. “The United States,” I would respond. Then they would replied, “But how can you speak Spanish?” I would finally solve their puzzle by giving them the missing piece: my ethnicity. Living biracial means that I also encounter twice the problem of never fitting in “enough” with each of the cultures I belong to. It’s as though my glass is forever half-full, but instead of seeing it optimistically, many choose to see it as ever-lacking. But, at VLB6, my half-ness still let me belong–including my Irish-American side. In fact, people would marvel at how I’m “so international.” I’m adding that adjective to describe me on my LinkedIn profile.

As though I sat right in the Medellin classroom, the quirkiness of others came right through the screen. For example: We saw the CEO of LALA, Diego, get roasted by another LALum as she called herself the new CEO. I saw the out-of-the-office side of Diego, who even showed us his newly acquired piano-playing skills. I side-chatted with people over Zoom like we were whispering to one another in sessions (I had to message one girl who did her makeup so flawlessly at 9 AM and now we’re WhatsApp buddies).

On the last day of the camp, we were asked to submit a word to describe the entire experience. Many wrote the word vulnerability. From Day 1, honesty paved the way for our leadership growth. The idea of self-knowledge expanded beyond how to detect our greatest strengths; for us, self-knowledge meant identifying how the community creates the self. We understood how to separate ourselves from the harmful definitions our communities can give us. Yet, simultaneously, we also added words to our self-dictionary that we either are or will become. A little spoiler: It’s not that you can’t. It’s just that you can’t yet.

Perhaps you search for the finer details of the camp as you read on: What was the length of the camp? A week. Were you on Zoom the whole time? Yes. Did you have breaks? Yes. Were they long? Some of them. Did you have time to eat? Yes, and we could also eat during the camp. Did you have fun? Of course! What were the activities like? Superb and unthinkable. But, what exactly were the activities? I can’t share it all! There’s beauty in keeping things a secret. My Yo del Futuro journal entries know that particular type of beauty. 

Interested or know someone who might be interested? Apply to LALA to participate in their programs and/or to intern!

I found out about LALA through my college career center since an alumni worked there and posted an opening; however, check out the following links to apply to the bootcamps and/or internships. I highly recommend keeping up with website for updated information.

Thank you all for reading! If you haven’t already subscribed, what are you waiting for? Make sure to check out my podcast, available on all streaming platforms. We’ll talk real soon!

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”

Elie Wiesel

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