How Kalu Yala Broke Me Down in the Best Possible Way

a couple of years ago
By Kimberly Harris– Summer 2017 Health and Wellness student.

I was self assured before coming down to Kalu Yala. I am a senior at the University of Florida; I had dreams to go on to graduate school for Mental Health Counseling where I would graduate and work abroad as a mental health advocate. I would one day get my PHD and had no self doubt. I was passionate. I was driven. I was extroverted and used this to relate to individuals I came into contact with.

I knew when I applied to KY that it would be a summer of self-growth, but what I did not realize was to what extent I was going to experience these things.

Author and KY Community Wellness student Kimberly Harris (blue shirt) looking triumphant during a build!

It was during my third week at KY when I realized my mind was beginning to shift. I was agitated and aggravated and unable to express why. People began coming to me with their problems, and I lacked the same mental capacity of compassion and empathy that I have always prided myself on. I began to withdraw into myself, choosing to spend time sifting through the Kalu Yala Library instead of chatting on the kitchen porch or opting out of Tiki Bar nights in order to get an extra hour or two of sleep. I began to question legitimately everything, from my own actions to the actions of others. I felt disappointed in myself for not acting like the bubbly human I have always known myself to be.

Kimberly enjoying some solitude and study in the Kalu Yala library.

It took a few weeks longer to realize that I did not necessarily change, I had just become more of myself. I am not a big partier. I don’t enjoy small talk or surface level friendships. Over the years at school or university, I had become that person that was always around because I never wanted to miss out on anything. I did not want to miss the opportunity of other people becoming closer friends if I was not there. I let an insecurity in myself define what my personality became, but Kalu Yala changed that. With the knowledge that the incredible people around me would always be within 15 feet from my hammock, I began to spend more time alone without the fear of losing my friendships with people. Through my confidence in myself, my true self began to show.


Turns out, I am an introvert. I never in my life believed I could ever be an introvert, but here I am. I also no longer want to be a mental health counselor. Through my studies as a Community Wellness student, I have realized how much I truly love neuroscience and want to pursue a career of researching and studying the neurology of individuals with disabilities. I’m not sure exactly where life will take me after university, but I know now what I’m not supposed to be doing.

Kalu Yala has a way of breaking down what you have always believed about yourself, and shaping you into who you are supposed to become. By stripping students of material possessions and constant connection to the outside world, you have the opportunity to become who you have always been meant to be.

Author Kimberly and a local student in San Miguel, our neighboring town at Kalu Yala.

Kalu Yala has changed me, and I do not think I could be happier about it. I have settled into the person I am here in ten weeks more than I have my entire life in Florida.

Past students have mentioned a magic that Kalu Yala has. I never believed or understood what they meant until I got here. Now, I will never view this world the way I used to because of that simple magic evident in everyone and everything here. I am deeply grateful for my time here because of how I experienced that magic, and how that magic manifested itself into changing my world and my life. I no longer feel the need to be anyone besides exactly who I am. I feel an appreciation for the people and the world around me that I never had before.

Although back home my world hasn’t changed too much, I have changed, and that’s what makes the difference.

You’re rad, Kim. Good luck on your new career path!