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August 3, 2020

How Working Abroad Changed My Life and Built Fundamental Work Habits

How Working Abroad Changed My Life and Built Fundamental Work Habits

How Working Abroad Changed My Life and Built Fundamental Work Habits

Everything you need to know about how working abroad changed my life can be seen on one of my wrists at any given time. Not following? Hang in here with me as I paint a little picture for you...

Women carry other women with them. Every woman has a tribe. Women that went before her, women that walk beside her, women that inspire her, women that contemplate the future with her and push her forward. Behind every woman is a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, biological or maybe not, that has potentially passed on habits, stories, traditions, morals, DNA. Or who maybe never did. One of my absolute favorite books, In the Body of the World by Eve Ensler, flawlessly depicts the inescapable bond and, yes, sometimes disconnect a woman can experience with her own mother, body, and the world as a whole. (Pick up a copy! You won’t regret it!)

Behind every woman is the opportunity to interact with and build up other women around her. What’s my point? Women carry other women with them, physically, emotionally, metaphorically. This is something I very much so value in both my personal and professional life- and anywhere inbetween, for that matter.

I’m lucky to be reminded of this every time I look at my wrist or every time someone asks me where I obtained the nest of colorful bracelets ("pulseras") that adorn it. And, this, was the most beautiful accident. I say “adorn” because I am wholly proud of my bracelets. They add to my body and life in a profound way for just being little bits of string woven together and tied to my wrist. I say “accident” because I didn’t knowingly seek out the bracelets or even put most of them on myself. Each bracelet represents a different woman. I’m happy to tell the stories of these women, whom I carry with me each and every day. Each has changed my perspective in a different way. Each has reminded me of healthy habits to incorporate into the way I interact with clients and friends alike.


The first two bracelets, three colors each, closest to my hand, are from Mary. Mary is a woman I first met in the market in Chichicastenango. She turned 21 yesterday—Feliz cumpleanos, hermosita! The first time I met Mary was a few years ago. I’ve had the chance to get to know her more intimately as I spent a ton of time in Chichi with medical teams. While I was there, I enjoyed sitting with Mary and other friends on the curb in front of Hotel Santo Tomas. We people-watched, bantered and laughed as she let me pick out two bracelets from the large ball of them she sells on the streets. When I look at my bracelets from Mary, I think of laughter and a sassy smile; I think of vigor and attitude. I think of a friendship I am happy to have.

Mary taught me the habits of the slow down, to sit and observe, and to never be stepped on.


The middle bracelet, deep blue with the metallic thread in places, is from a woman named Ana. The first time I saw Ana was on Santander (the busy main street of Panajachel, packed with vendors and restaurants) as I was getting papusas with a group of friends after work. Ana stopped in to talk to us, her baby girl riding on her back, tied up in multicolored cloth. Ana was selling bracelets and other small items and asked me if I would buy something because she could really use the money for her daughter. I didn't buy anything from Ana, but I did ask Ana if she was hungry. She smiled and said, “My daughter is ALWAYS hungry.” So, I put in another order of pupusas. Ana and her daughter did not sit with us as they ate. I would have loved them to but did not try to wave her over more than once or want her to feel obligated or uncomfortable. As I got up to leave, we smiled and waved at one another from across the restaurant. A few steps out onto Santander, I felt a hand on my arm and I turned around. Of course, it was Ana. She quickly reached up (because I’m nearly a foot taller than your average Guatemalan woman) gave me a hug, a “cheek bump", said thank you, and we parted ways. Maybe five minutes had passed when I looked down and realized I had a new bracelet on my wrist. I'm not really sure when she slipped it on. I admired it and smiled widely. When I look at my bracelets from Ana, I think of selflessness, vulnerability, opportunity, love.

Ana taught me the habits of dedication, to put myself out there, and to never forget why it is I do what I do.

The Girls

The last two bracelets, the bright pink and the purple, are from girls at a rural public elementary school in Camanchaj near the Salud y Paz clinic where I worked. While conducting a dental cleaning clinic, a group of girls ran up to me and started asking me all sorts of questions. They saw my collection of bracelets and playfully twiddled with them. Two girls took the bracelets off of their wrists and tied them onto mine, then went into a giggling fit and dashed away. They sacrificed part of their own wrist collections to add to mine. When I look at the bracelets from the girls in Camanchaj, I think of youthfulness, laughter, fearlessness, kindness, and hope for the future.

The girls taught me habits of freeness and fun, fearlessness, selflessness.

When I look at these bracelets, I reflect a lot about the metaphor of woven strings.

Each strand is purposeful on its own, but is much stronger when woven amongst other strands.

A strand can maintain its own identity but is influenced and accentuated amongst the others. Alone, one stand can do mighty things. Together, they become an indestructible rope.

The strings of my beautiful bracelets brush the keys as I write. Even when my bracelets are not a visible or audible reminder, I think about the women they represent. I think about the strong women in my life that I invisibly wear every day. I feel them so strongly with me even as I write. They make me stronger, sounder, smarter, and more beautiful. I think about the women who walk in front of me, beside me, and behind me, and I carry them with me each and every day. They are why I do the work that I do and live a life that I love.

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