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Photos by Ricardo Ayala

I am very fortunate. Not many young people in Boyle Heights have the opportunity to take a few months out of their lives to travel, stay, and study in another country.

I come from a working-class family, where travel is a luxury we cannot afford. I’m also about to begin my third year at UCLA. As a student I was able to look into programs and take advantage of financial aid in order to study abroad this past summer.

When I first looked into it, I wanted to go a country in Central and South America, but my mom, worried about reports of kidnappings and extortion, was not in favor of it. Ultimately, we both agreed that France was a good, safe choice.

I had studied French for three years in high school but when I first arrived in Paris, I felt uneasy about my level of French. I was also worried about missing my family, and the frijoles and tortillas I was so used to at home. All of my life, I’ve been used to eating rice and beans with tortillas for dinner, because it’s relatively inexpensive.

Many of the students I traveled with didn’t exactly share my experiences growing up. A lot of them came from middle class households and had had opportunities to travel with their families before. For me, it was my second time out of country, and my first time to Europe.

While I would spend a lot of time in Paris acting as a tourist, this time abroad was also an academic quarter, and I was taking two French classes as well as an anthropology class. The biggest surprise I encountered was learning about the backgrounds of the locals and having to explain my own””that I am Latino and from the United States.

“Je viens des Etats-Unis mais ma maman est d’El Salvador,” (I come from the United States but my mom is from El Salvador). This was something I had to repeat again and again. While common in the U.S., the French I met knew very little about Latinos in Los Angeles. Most people guessed I was from a Latin-American country, such as Colombia or Mexico, and told me that they hardly, if ever, encountered Latino visitors from the United States.

During the seven weeks I spent in Paris, I also saw similarities from home. I saw how homeless people on the streets were ignored, stigmatized, and often immigrants from other countries, namely Algeria and Senegal. While I was a long way from home, it reflected what I saw in Los Angeles. It made me realize immigrant populations have similar struggles around the world.

I am home now and happy to have experienced life in another country. At school I will continue to organize with a Central American student organization dedicated to issues of Central Americans in California and abroad. I am grateful I was able to capture a lot of beautiful sights, practice a foreign language and gain a perspective of the world outside of Los Angeles.

Ricardo Ayala is a former Boyle Heights Beat youth reporter and second year student at UCLA.

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