by Jordyn Voss
1. Dig Out Your Suitcase
No one likes living out of a suitcase. When you fumble through asking your host parents where you may have put that huge bag (honestly, where could it have gone in a house this size?), set it on the floor of your bedroom and open that sucker up.
2. Regret Choices Made by a Stressed Out, Eight-Month-Younger Version of You
Seriously, why did you think you needed four full, gallon bags of feminine products? You still have a bag and a half left. And why did you bring three sweatshirts to Brazil when you knew you would be there during the summer? How come you didn’t bring more mosquito spray? August you was an idiot.
by Jiyoon Chon
Throughout the past eight months, I’ve been constantly reflecting and thinking about the usefulness of my presence in my volunteer placement. To be honest, a lot of the times I actually didn’t feel that useful at all. A lot of the times, especially towards the beginning, I just sat on a chair off to the side of the classroom watching as the teacher gives class. During English classes was definitely when I felt like I could contribute the most—I jumped up at every opportunity I got when it seemed appropriate for me to get up and help. Even then, it was difficult finding the right balance between giving useful help and creating a dependency on my help. This was more apparent when I was in the first grade classrooms: some kids were brilliant and only needed a small clue to continue on their own, whereas others were completely clueless and lost all of the time. This got better as I got to know the children better, but I also had to learn how to see past the mischievous manipulation of some of the kids (a lot of them fake not understanding something so that I would help them and are REALLY good at it).
by Rebeca Becdach
With the last month of my time here in Madrid approaching, I’m constantly thinking about what I want to accomplish with the short time I have left. Yet, I have realized that I’ve accomplished so much this year. I have been able to switch the country I live in, my home, family, and way of life to the extent that now I feel totally normal living here in Madrid. My Spanish is better than ever before and I feel very comfortable speaking it all day with everyone. I’ve put a lot of work into making activities for the girls at the Montoya home and do my best to help every afternoon I spend with them. I’ve begun giving English classes at the Neighborhood Association of Ventilla and have taken it upon myself to spread information about the workshops offered and find someone to help us with the English classes in the afternoons. Through traveling I’ve seen more of the world and in doing so have made meaningful connections and friendships in Madrid and all over Europe. I know the district of Tetuan and the center of Madrid very well and have been a tour guide for friends who have visited. I have become immersed in the Spanish way of life (not sure how I’ll go back to eating meals at the normal time) and have learned how to make some Spanish dishes!
by Sawyer Uecke
Being in León was a spectacular way to carry out the final moments of Semana Santa. Liveliness fills the streets, and one can sense the national Nicaraguan pride that shines in the grin of many. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to participate in a near century year old tradition with the family of my best friend, Isidro. His family lives on “La Calle de las Alfombras”, where each year several families sweep the streets, sell sweets, and, most of all, make beautiful murals made out of sawdust called alfombras, or rugs. In the evening, thousands of people come to gaze at the various murals created, all with their own special touch. The process can be long and brutal in the hot sun, but it was quite a surprise to see how simple it is, with such magnificent pieces of art as the final product. I am no artist, but the fellow neighbors who have been doing this art since youth were more than willing to teach me the proper techniques.
by Mateo Gomez
“A tía isn’t just someone that’s related to you. They’re someone who watches out for you and takes care of you.” I remember walking towards the city center with my host brother when he told me this. We had just passed his aunt’s house, and I wanted to know how exactly it was that she was related to him. He quickly laughed and revealed that she wasn’t actually a member of the family, but rather a friend of his parents. Nevertheless, being that he’d grown up with her love and support his entire life, in many ways she really was like an aunt.
At my work, La Asociación de Las Tías, the students refer to staff members as either tía or tío (the latter meaning uncle). When I first arrived, I was super excited about the fact that I’d get to come in and be a tío to so many kids. There was just one problem, however — I wasn’t. Unlike staff members, volunteers at Las Tías are referred to be their first name.