When Karla Hernandez participated in ARC’s 24-day Summer Immersion Course in Lake Tahoe in 2014, she learned that she’s capable of doing whatever she sets her mind to, and that she can be in a new environment with strangers and make them into friends.
ARC was not Karla’s first experience of fitting into a new setting. She remembers moving to Lake Tahoe as a young child, and the daunting first day of school among strangers – unfamiliar surroundings, new language, and finding her first friend. After moving from Tijuana, Baja California, she felt shy and hidden in her new town.
In the personal poem Karla wrote during the ARC course, “Something or Nothing” she compared herself to a pond lily, used by the animals of the forest for shelter and food, but then abandoned and left in the lonely dark. She spoke of having to create a tough outer shell to protect herself from bullies who wanted to bring her down. Her gentle, giving heart had hardened from the cruel words of her classmates and so-called friends.
What Karla gained from ARC was the importance of true friends. Karla remembers “the day we were at Gilmore Lake in Desolation Wilderness. We connected with each other and that’s when we came up with [the name] JGFF (Jiātíng, Gia đình, Familia, Family). This stands for Family in all the languages of our group – Mandarin, Vietnamese, Spanish, English. We knew we had each other and we were a family. We still had our ups and downs but we knew we had each other.”
Even though learning how to pack a backpack or how to pick a campsite are two important aspects of the ARC course, for Karla the most essential takeaway was that “I should always be myself.”
Karla was able to sort through much of her personal history during the first two weeks of the course. In the final week, what emerged was the true beauty of the pond lily – a giving, smiling, loving friend to all who crossed her path.
After the summer course, Karla said, “My personality has changed. Now I don’t just try to fit in. And I don’t try to be somebody that I’m not. I trust myself. Finishing the course made me feel proud about myself.” In ARC, Karla was challenged to be herself; something that she may have forgotten how to do. It was as if the true Karla had reemerged, for the benefit of the entire ARC family.