by Henry Baer-Benson
When I first sat down to eat with my family my host mom told me, slowly and clearly, that in their family they pray before every meal. “Is that ok?” she asked. “Si si si si si” (yes yes yes yes yes), I cleverly responded. I had never prayed before eating anywhere outside of my grandparents’ house before, and I was excited to take part in this ritual and feel like part of the family. After a week, however, the novelty had worn off and I began to realize that I was truly a stranger in this house. The moments before meals punctuated my day with feelings of doubt and guilt. For fifteen seconds, as I watched my family close their eyes and lower their heads, I felt like an outsider. I wanted to participate, I wanted to be a part of the family, but I couldn’t. It felt wrong for me to do so. If I closed my eyes to join them, I felt like an imposter. I understood words they were saying, but I couldn’t share their prayer.
Fortunately, like all things bridge year, time was my savior. After a month it was comfortable. I still didn’t feel involved. Sometimes, I admit, I was bored, but I was only disinterested instead of disconnected. I was happy to be present for these ritual parts of my family’s day. As the year went on I noticed them less and less. It became habitual, and by April it was not only comfortable, but comforting. Eating meals as a family is an integral part of Ecuadorian culture. We sit down together for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We eat and talk and joke and learn. And we always begin with a prayer. It’s become a natural part of the process such that when my host mom isn’t home and we don’t take those 15 seconds, I feel less engaged with my family and less focused on the meal.
I’ve periodically found comfort in other rituals as well. For the first half of the year the Maxes and I would go out to eat at least once a week, for a while my host siblings and I would watch a show before going to bed, and I try to call my family on Sundays. But none of these rituals have been as consistent as prayer before we eat. In her TED Talk, Baya Voce says that “connection isn’t created by the things we go get. Connection is created by the things we go back to.” I’ve realized that I look forward to praying before meals as a moment of decompression after a long, confusing day. A pathway back to the present, where I can laugh and share and connect with my family. After so many months of repetition, “Señor Jesús te damos gracias…” has become my singing bowl.
by Rujen Amatya
During my bridge year in Florianopolis, Brazil, I had a goal: to visit all the beaches on the island. This proved to be an extreme challenge because the island of magic has more than 40 beaches. I could not visit all the beaches. Thus, I decided to go for the most beautiful beaches which are on the east coast of Florianopolis. These are also the beaches with strong, big waves, exactly fitting the waves that I liked.
My home, Nepal, is a country full of mountains and hills, rivers and lakes, waterfalls, and glaciers. Born and raised in a place with such a diverse topography, I often found myself climbing mountains, hiking the trails between the hills, swimming in the rivers and getting soaked under waterfalls. I thoroughly enjoyed what Nepal had to offer but never did I expect to find this new exploration in Brazil.
It feels wonderful to spend time on the beach near the sea. Just watching the sunrise or sunset makes me feel happy. The sound of the gurgling waves hitting the shores is melodious. As these waves gently soak the sand, the acetylene blue sea simultaneously changes color. While the waves continue, the fragrance of sulfur along with the cool breeze refreshes me. While I walk along the beach, the feathery sand sticks to my damp feet and I carry it all the way up to my destination. I had never felt this kind of attraction back home. I was in love with the sea.
by Nadia Rosales
From when I first arrived in Nicaragua, I was set in my expectations of what my work would be. I expected to be doing what some would call ‘’busy work’’- an extra helping hand for my organization so they could focus their efforts on bigger projects. Efficiently doing menial labor for the good of a larger community was what I was ready to perform, and I opened my conversations with my bosses and supervisors saying exactly that. I would be working with kids to help them with their homework and help with the after school activities to keep them entertained. I could definitely do that.
Yet, when I entered, I only got a few days of that work. Once my half-days of work wrapped and I began my routine of full shifts, it happened. My boss sat me down and basically told me that my job was to convince the kids that reading was good.
Now here we are, 7 months after that moment. It took 7 months to get to the point where I feel like I genuinely have done a lot of good, but I did not have all the resources I have now. The timeline of the evolution of my responsibilities began with a once-a-week hour long class. All I had to do was fumble my way through a few games and books that were unpopular.
Right before the winter break, as I was preparing a trip that would be two weeks long to take advantage of the break, my work load changed. As it got lighter because of the coming break, it also got vaguer. I had heard mentions of extracurricular classes I might have to teach, but only faint whispers. I had mentioned it casually to some co-workers and received shrugs in reply. My boss waved it off and I could not tell what was a natural change in the way my host agency worked and what was being dropped because there were not enough people to make it happen.
I was not sure what to do. These classes that I would theoretically be teaching would be 3 hours long with the same group of kids for about a week and a half. The curriculum I was planning was all baseless- I had no idea who the kids would be. I only knew their ages, certainly not their reading levels or interest levels. I knew I wanted to do debate classes, but did I have the skills to teach that to kids younger than who I typically taught, and with a clunky, sparse vocabulary?
In the end, the kids told me they enjoyed class and were wondering if I would be implementing some of the lessons when we came back from break.
Since then, I have gained confidence in my ability to teach subjects more complicated than ‘’reading is good.’’ I have taught poetry classes, gone to conferences about implementing complicated literature and poetry into curriculum, and am planning to make a book with stories the kids will write themselves.
I had expectations when I walked into my host agency as everyone does (and shouldn’t). In the end, I am glad that my expectations were broken. Had I just been filing papers the whole year, I do not believe I would have learned or helped nearly as much as I am now. Plus, some highly-specific skills ended up being more useful than I thought.
by Elizabeth Kenneally
I am lucky enough to have been given a second chance.
At the beginning of this semester, I switched host families and my office was completely reshuffled. I went through three bosses in a week. And it was hard. It was hard to come back with no sense of normalcy, no pre-established comfort zone. Nothing was familiar and I had to do that beginning transition phase all over again. But it was a blessing.
The second semester, I now understand fully how hard it was the first time. Now I am searching out opportunities, conversations, and experiences. I come home filled with excitement for all of the possibilities that are open to me. First semester, I didn’t seek that much out, and I thought it was because I was lazy or afraid. But I wasn’t. I understand now that I just did not have the bandwidth to do more and more and more. Simply having a lunchtime conversation in Spanish was overwhelming and difficult- why would I continue to search for additional overwhelming and difficult ways to occupy my time? I would even go to bed between 8:30 and 9 because I was too exhausted to even read. And I blamed myself for not “getting the most out of my experience.” But the truth is, I couldn’t do any more than I was doing. That’s what the second semester is for.
The second semester, I am now emotional over the idea of leaving. I don’t know what’s different this specific semester. But all of a sudden I can feel how much I will miss Cuenca. I have finally become part of this community. My new host family are pretty close to convincing me to stay forever. My job, although often slow, is now filled with people to talk to. I love Cuenca. I love my host family. I even love my internship some of the time. It will be so much harder to leave Cuenca than it ever was to leave home.
What I really mean to say is stick it out. It’s not all fun quirky cultural experiences. It’s exhausting and difficult. But it’s so incredibly worth it. Never for a second have I regretted this year and I don’t think I ever will.
by Sophie Impellitteri
When I sat down to meet my boss on the first day of work, all I could see was her lips moving as she barreled forward in unrelenting, full speed Spanish. I came to Nicaragua not knowing any Spanish, and, it turns out, it takes a lot longer than two weeks to get up to speed. I nodded nervously during pauses, though pretty much all I understood was that I needed to wear my hair in a bun because they were having a lice problem (I only got this because there was a visual demonstration).
Before coming I had received a brief information sheet from my supervisor. It gave little information other than “Barrilete, children ages 0-18.” Google Translate came up with “keg” for “barrilete,” which even then I knew was incorrect. My first two weeks I saw what seemed to be dance classes and chaotic homework time. When I showed up for my first full day, I was surprised to see nearly 90 new faces in little gold and brown uniforms, and taught the word “preescolar.” On my second full day I ended up standing in the back of a pickup truck, driving down mud roads and watching Margarita have conversations in floor less houses that I couldn’t understand.