Photo by Sarah Dean

Watson to graduate, move to Colombia

April 24, 2024

By Kate Ellis, News Writer

Ouachita seniors will walk the stage soon and transform from students to alumni. They will then disperse, settling in central or Northwest Arkansas, maybe some in Texas, Oklahoma or Louisiana. For one graduate in particular, this relocation after graduation will require a plane ride and passport as she prepares to settle down in Colombia. Breanna Watson, a senior community and family services, communications and Spanish triple major, shares her story that has led her across the world and will lead her there again after graduation.

“In 2019, I went on my first mission trip out of the country to Guatemala with my church, which is a country that I love and is very dear to my heart,” Watson said. “We went to a school in Antigua that works with kids in poverty. That was my first time out of the country, and I fell absolutely in love with it. I knew that this is what I wanted to do with my life—poverty alleviation work and using that as a way to share the gospel. I didn’t speak a foreign language, and I knew that to even think about making an impact in another country, I needed to be able to speak the language because that type of work is very relational. There is no impactful relationship if there is no language connection.”

In the midst of her discouragement about her lack of exposure to a second language, Watson was told by a friend that it is possible to learn a foreign language in a month if given the right resources. She was eager to both learn more Spanish and to find a way back onto the mission field. She contacted her friends Kevin and Lauren Sanchez, owners of the English Academy in Guatemala, Academy of Future Leaders and expressed her desire to travel again. 

“I had met them on this trip, and I asked them what it would take for me to be able to come back,” Watson said.“I told them I hadn’t experienced enough yet, and I was hungry for more.”

The Sanchezes told her they were looking for a missions intern for the Spring of 2020, her senior year of high school. Having taken concurrent credit classes, Watson had a free spring semester and was able to go. While there, she took intensive Spanish classes at the academy for almost a month until she was sent home on an embassy flight after the pandemic began.

“I was on fire learning Spanish; I wanted to keep learning Spanish, even during the pandemic,” Watson said. “And, the pandemic actually gave me that opportunity because there was nothing else to do. I knew that this was something that God had put on my heart.”

Watson was not discouraged by this major setback in her learning. She spent a great deal of time on HelloTalk, a platform that connects users with native speakers to help language development. Not only did this software grow her Spanish speaking skills, but it also helped her develop a very special relationship. It is on this app that Watson met her current boyfriend, Abdiel.

“COVID shut everything down, including everyone’s social life, so he and I connected on HelloTalk. Our friendship kind of grew over that point because he was learning English, and I was learning Spanish. I told him about my experiences in Guatemala and why I was so motivated to learn Spanish. I think it is so cool that from the very beginning we were helping each other reach a common goal. We were just friends who wanted to help each other achieve their dreams,” Watson said.

During the summer break of her sophomore year at Ouachita, Watson was invited to go to Colombia to stay with her friends Vanessa Vives in Cartagena and Isabella Bejarano in Bogota. Throughout the entirety of this trip, Watson was eight hours away from Abdiel, who lived in Tauramena, Casanare. They did not meet on this trip, but Vives encouraged her to pursue the relationship more. 

“Three days after our trip ended and I came back to the States, he and I shared that we were interested in each other,” Watson said. “That was the start of something really beautiful for me because I felt that the Lord had obviously brought our paths together, but I did recognize that this was very unconventional. This situation has required a lot of prayer and discernment from myself and other people and inviting others into our relationship.”

The summer before junior year, she was invited to return to Guatemala to work with the Sanchezes. Having kept up a relationship with Abdiel for quite some time now, she asked her parents for permission to make a stop in his town while on his continent. To her excitement, they said yes. Watson served at the English academy for a month and lived with a host family. Then, she packed up and went to Abdiel’s hometown for two weeks, which she now recalls as some of the best weeks of her life.

After that, Watson did everything she could to return to the country that holds such a special place in her heart. She worked extra jobs to make ends meet to keep planting roots across the world. In true fairytale fashion, her and Abdiel’s stories kept intertwining. 

“This has been a story of God giving us the means to see each other,” Watson said. “The summer before senior year, we were given the opportunity to serve together at the English Academy in Guatemala, and he worked with the kids as the youth soccer director while I was the head English instructor. It was very sweet because we have this dream to share this kind of work together in the future. We have talked about opening up a community center in Colombia that can be a place where kids and families can be not only equipped with the word of God, but also other skills that can help break cycles of poverty.”

Watson plans to continue her current job, remote work for MJN Rental Management, where she oversees tenants and properties, when she moves to Colombia in July. Aside from this and spending time with Abdiel and their friends, she hopes to work alongside a Christian non-profit and potentially hold English lessons from her apartment as well. As of now, her current plan is to stay in Colombia for around two years and then one day be able to go back and forth from the United States and Colombia by means of a social enterprise that she and Abdiel run, once they are married and he has obtained his visa. Although she has much awaiting her in the future, this giant leap includes leaving behind some of her favorite people, namely her family.

“It is hard for all of us,” Watson said. “We are a very united family. I’m going to miss them so much, but I know if you were to ask them what they see me doing with my life, they would say they can’t see me doing anything else. I know that they are excited for me, even if that shows up through tears right now. In most of my classes, we have been talking about the grieving process that seniors go through, and I am definitely grieving more—the end of my Ouachita experience, but also grieving my family, Tennessee and my church back home.”

Watson is looking forward to daily life in Colombia and the shift in culture she has found there, which she describes as welcoming, generous, colorful and warm.

“I’m going to have to learn to slow down,” Watson explained. “Ouachita is wonderful, but it has you running at a hundred miles per hour. When you move to a new country, you have to give yourself time to adjust, so I’m not concerned about what I am going to be doing every second of the day. I know that I will be fulfilled because God is the One sustaining me.”

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