by Rebecca Pawlowski, a member of the SkillCorps® Netherlands October 2018 team

I originally applied to the Global Autism Project with the hopes of sharing my behavior analytic skills in a country where I can also expand on my Spanish speaking ability. I was accepted to travel to Nicaragua in November and couldn’t be more excited. The weather would be warm and the primary spoken language would be Spanish. I began my fundraising journey feeling beyond motivated.
All of this excitement came to a screeching halt in April when political unrest rocked the country. There were riots, violence, and overall chaos in the streets. The Global Autism Project made the difficult decision in June to cancel all upcoming Nicaragua trips. Not only was this news crushing to me and my future plans, I was devastated for those families affected daily by this violence.
I contemplated cancelling my entire trip. After countless conversations with people close to me, I had decided to just switch my trip to a different location. While my dream trip was to volunteer at the center in Nicaragua, I acknowledged that there are children with Autism all over the world that deserve the same supports. The Netherlands didn’t sound so bad after all.
When I first arrived in Amsterdam, it felt like a whole new planet. For someone who has never been outside of North America, the pure thought of being on another continent was astonishing. The amount of people, the language, the style – all was different from what I’m used to.
Navigating through the trains, trams, and busses in an area you’ve never been is hard enough. Imagine doing this with a group of people you barely know to places you can’t pronounce. Catherine, the owner of Stichting Reach, was the perfect person to help us navigate through all of this uncertainty. She made our whole team feel at home with her hospitality and nurturing demeanor.
I learned so much during my two weeks in the Netherlands, not only about ABA but about life in general. As BCBAs, teachers, and therapists, we teach our kids to be flexible and adaptable on a daily basis. Unfortunately, we oftentimes forget this for ourselves.
While I still pray for the people of Nicaragua and hope that some type of solution can come of the chaos, I’m appreciative of the opportunity to learn from others and demonstrate flexibility. I’m so thankful that I had the chance to meet the wonderful therapists and children of Reach. I cannot wait to step outside my comfort zone in the future with another SkillCorps journey.