Erika, 19, a Chicana student from Los Angeles, agreed to be interviewed by the World before, during and after the 16th World Festival of Youth and Students. Below is her interview upon returning home.

How do you feel being back in the states, does your life seem different, if so how and why do you think?

Coming back to the states is definitely weird. In Venezuela, there was a sense of unity. People were not ashamed to wave their flag, to express how they felt, and everyone was struggling towards the same goal.

What do you think you will do with your experience at the festival and overall in another country?

I hope to share my experiences with many people. If I can help others realize any of the things I have realized, I would be happy. I know people are entitled to their own opinions, but those opinions should be made on their own. I hope I can inspire people to gather facts from as many people and places as possible and then make a decision; only then can your opinions truly be your own.

What was the most memorable event while

at the festival?

One of the events I remember most is when we were given the opportunity to visit one of the provinces. I had expected to simply walk around and just explore things on our own, but it was not like that at all. The people there had already gathered in and around what I think was a basketball court. There were so many people there to greet us. It was amazing. They were filled on the inside, standing outside, and were also packed on bleachers. They were very inviting and kind-hearted. The children had even prepared a show for us to watch. It was amazing for me to see because they had nothing, yet there they were, proud, happy and full of life.

Have your political views changed? If so, how?

I would say that my political views have changed significantly. I now know to do what is right, regardless of what it means to anyone else. It is pointless, to me, now, to follow a group, political or not, just because you belong to it. You are taking away your own individuality, your own voice and your chance to make your own decisions.

Is there anything you wish the youth of the U.S. knew, or that you would like to share?

I wish the youth of the U.S. knew just how good we have it. I saw men and women in Venezuela, old enough to be my grandparents, who were just now getting the opportunity to learn how to read. They were getting a new chance at life, despite their age. While our elderly and disabled community is being discarded, theirs is being saved. They know education is a right, and are not taking it for granted.

What did you learn while at the festival?

I have learned so many things since traveling to the festival. I learned about the Cuban Five and the “known terrorist” [Luis Posada Carriles], the effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam, the effects of the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, struggles in Colombia and even the struggles going on in Venezuela. There are a lot of things I would like to learn more about because I was so unaware of most struggles taking place around the world.

Is there anything else you would like to add or express?

Before coming to the festival I did not have very strong feelings for or against war. To me, it was just something that happened, it affected people far from me, I thought it was bad, but what could I do? Now I know it is bad. I remember looking at a booth set up about Hiroshima and Nagasaki and staring at all the pictures; I could not look away. I had to hold back my tears because what I saw was so horrible and shocking. No person should have to go through the types of things that I saw, and most of all, no child should have to go through it, nor be affected by it in any way. It was enough to change my mind forever.