Lost on Memory Lane

by Ashley, Tufts 1+4 Participant

There is a little game I enjoy playing with myself; it’s called “Let’s see how far back we can remember.” A little game that I like to play occasionally, but over the years the game has become more of a way for me to reminisce on old experiences and re-live them. Thankfully, India has gifted me many more memories to use for my future reminiscences. 

Week One, India. The idea in my mind was “exploration” and I wanted to truly embody it by exploring my neighbor in hopes of becoming familiar with my new environment. By foot.  This detail is crucial as I had not yet had the ability to walk with the Indian traffic. I had to check left, right, up, down, and sideways —multiple times — to be sure that I would not be met with a rickshaw, car, or motorcycle!

Once I had been able to successfully cross streets, I began to look around, and what I saw was breathtaking. As I turned corners and walked down alleyways, I saw people walking around, buying produce at local stands, animals around the trash and walking along the roads. Even though I had seen this happen in my own town, the other places I had been, there was a “newness” to it. Soon enough it became apparent that I was not from around there as the stares began piling up as I continued aimlessly roaming around. 

I was very content being lost. Little did I know that the little alleyways would take me to more little alleys that would lead to a dead end. As I looked around my surroundings, I realized that I had collected a few friends along the way. There were approximately 20 small children around me who were all talking at once and shouting “Didi” to get my attention. The commotion brought out adults and then they began to ask me questions in Hindi, to which I had no way of understanding. I decided to return the way I had come from. By that point, I was overwhelmed, sweaty, and tired; the idea of exploring seemed good in my mind but my body had other thoughts. Now, looking back, getting “lost” was an adventure and being able to experience the “newness” of everyday things was magic.

I find that every moment we live through has a touch of that magic; something that we cannot find in any other experience because it is so unique to each one. It’s this magic that has the tendency to lessen as time goes on. Sure, we take pictures and look back at them every so often, but it seems that everything we do, in the hopes of remembering these moments, is futile. I constantly wish that there was a way to capture the moments the way I lived them- the emotions, the smells, the sounds. Time has a way of taking these details and twisting them around.

While time won’t do the moments justice, they are a part of me and so is the magic they carried when they happened. I do not know the next time I will get “lost” or the next time I have to relearn traffic but knowing India there will be more surprises in store. There will be more time to experience and even more time to look back at these moments throughout the course of my life. Even when the memories are a little dusty, that will be alright.

Preparing for the Urban Classroom

By Ameya, Tufts 1+4 Participant

There’s something very unnerving and strange about the dichotomy between the extra-ness, flamboyance, and allure of bougie New York City and the blank walls, repetitive buildings, and overheated, overdue, long bus rides to East New York – where sweat stained uniforms, bad school lunches, broken pencils, and badly-drawn genitalia on desks reign supreme. As weeks have gone by and days have started to merge together, I’ve found myself often arriving at the front doors of IS 364, asking myself “did I ever really leave?” My repetitive, I leave my house before sunrise and leave as the school at dusk. Nothing but experience can quite prepare you to work in an urban school. At the same time, nothing could’ve prepared my sporadic artist/student lifestyle, chaotic brain , and chronic lateness for the 360 culture shift to a regulated, predictable year-round schedule,  strict, full-time job with 10 hour work days, minimal (and I really mean minimal) pay, hour-long commutes, frustrating children, a lack of social time, personal time, and independence.

Earlier this month, I had a friend walk in his first fashion show for NYFW at the Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn. I somehow snagged some last minute tickets to surprise him, rushed home after a day’s work, tossed my sweaty, grey toned clothes onto the floor, threw on a fit a little more fitting, smeared on some intense eyeliner, and then sprinted to the train. I walked into the stadium, passing influencers and photographers, flashing cameras, brand-name backpacks, fur coats, shaved heads, chains and glitter – and an overall exclusive and predictable NYFW spectacle. In time, I found myself sitting in an arena across from Lil Kim walking through a smoke machine in a neon yellow latex jumper. And yes, I got to see my boy walk. But that wasn’t what shocked me that night or what made me really *really* think.

What made me think was  the overwhelming focus on status, show, and merit that the event suggested. What made me think, sitting in that stadium, under the fog and flashing lights, surrounded by insecure teenagers, twenty-something creatives, and viral influencers, was that less than two hours before I was in a classroom in the projects on the outskirts of the city teaching thirteen-year-olds how to add exponents. I felt my privilege, but I also felt in my bones, the drastic, echo chamber of disconnect between the communities that I had moved through in only a couple hours. How do I exist between the two? What is my place? How can we work to close gaps similar to this? How can we create opportunities for students to experience, question, and explore their lifestyles and different ones that exist only a (long) metro ride away? New York City is small, but the number of lives you can live here is vast.

The Language of Laughter

By Christine, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Every pore in my body was sweating profusely as I nervously attempted to communicate with my host family for the first time. Our supervisors organized a fiesta at the hostel for all of the participants to meet their new families. My eardrums rang from the sound of what felt like 1,000 excited voices introducing themselves to one another. Because I could hear absolutely everything in the room, I couldn’t hear anything my new host family was saying to me. I blame my lack of understanding on the loud noises around me, but the communication barrier was more a result of my inability to comprehend Spanish.
Although I could only understand one-sixteenth of what my family was saying to me, I understood their hand gestures to get my belongings from my room so we could go home. The combination of nerves and excitement hindered my coordination and I tripped up the stairs after three steps. I’m sure it gave my family a lovely first impression of me… I turned around to a bunch of gasps and my new family members all asking if I was okay. My face was definitely bright red but I just laughed it off and continued my way up the stairs. I heard my family’s giggles from behind and for some reason, I felt relieved.
Last weekend, all of the families and participants got together for a barbecue. When I first arrived to the picnic, I found my host family and sat down next to them. We carried on a basic conversation with the other people around us for about 10 minutes, and then it got awkward. Everyone was silently twiddling their thumbs and waiting around for something to do next. Another Tufts fellow and I decided to go to the middle of the room and start doing the salsa in order to ease some of the tension. We were terrible and had no music for awhile, but other people eventually started to join us. Some host siblings attempted to teach us more moves but we just laughed together at our subpar dancing abilities.
Some nights I’ll be sitting in my room doing homework and my host mom will come in and sit next to me. We’ll ask about each other’s days and our plans for the next. I know those questions pretty well and don’t have much trouble answering them, but things get tricky when she strays away from the surface level. I often won’t understand her and have to ask her to repeat herself numerous times. She’ll start acting out words and I end up laughing at our game of charades, rather than comprehending the message. Regardless, the laughter we share together seems to bring us closer than the questions we answer.
Throughout the past month, I’ve learned that laughter is the best response to all awkward and uncomfortable situations. Not only that, but I’ve come to realize that laughter has no language. Humor has the power to bring joy to others and has allowed me to form relationships with people that I cannot even speak to.
Offerings from the spiritual ceremony that a host mom held to welcome us to Ecuador


By Kamil, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Journey. What does that word mean anyway? A voyage thousands of miles away from home? Hundreds of hard won steps towards an ultimate goal? A dozen chance encounters or a handful of impactful relationships? Maybe it’s a combination of all the above, or something else entirely.

One thing for sure, A journey marks change in our lives. The hero leaves their comfort zone, overcomes trial and tribulations, and brings back a hefty reward. 

Our journey lasts 9 months, from conception to fruition. It’s one thing to imagine coming home altogether changed after growing as a person, and it’s another to take steps to ensure it happens day by day. All too often, people drift through life expecting to reach an end goal, and are often shocked at “where it all went wrong.” 

Where does it all go wrong? Why does everything seem easier in hindsight? What fork in the road separates success from failure?

There are levels of knowledge and heroes. Plenty of things out there could enrich our lives if only we knew them. Some of us feel confident after managing to leverage small bits and pieces of information to our advantage. We grow complacent. Comfortably fixed in our ways, because they “work” in the now. We forget to analyze our actions and their implications on our futures. We not only slide off the path of success, we forget where the lines of it are drawn.

Through chance blessings or hard won efforts, some of us realize there is a never a point at which we know “enough.” Any master in a field understands there are lifetimes to dedicate in study of the infinitely complex world. However, an altogether common arrogance replaces this bittersweet pill of reality in favor of a more romantic fantasy.

Sometimes, the smallest of tasks proves itself the most complex.

In Cuencan meals, I’ve always been handed a spoon with a smile from my host mother. At a first glance, it’s all too normal. Soup is served with every meal. Yet few people bother to change to a fork once they transition to a more physically involved meal such as chicken and french fries. Innovation, human laziness, or simple reduction of redundancy in eating utensils? One thing for sure, the silverware trend does not stop there. A plate of corn popped in boiling water, and fried pork, are yet again served with spoons. Forks aren’t forbidden, in fact all too common in most households, yet they grow dusty with disuse. 

Perhaps it’s pure utilitarianism mocking my American rituals. 

Perhaps the people here subconsciously avoid such harsh and direct approaches to situations (such as violently puncturing and piercing in order to reach a goal, in favor of roundabout guiding).

Perhaps it itself is a ritual resulting from a culture that values soups (or is crafty and uses every scrap of food possible). 

Perhaps we’ll never truly know the reason for sure.

This maddening development haunted my dreams and meals. Even silverware was not sacred across cultures. And yet, moments of clarity arose from my haze of a foreigner’s perception. 

We often take for granted small things in our lives. For most, we do the things we do because we do them, without a clear reason. However we cannot arrive at a new destination if we follow the same old roads. Most good things are forged off the conventional path through intentional actions and exertions of willpower. Still, rarely do we exert such a careful (or tedious) attention to the minute details of our lives, our forks, until they are taken away. 

This year abroad on the 1+4 program is a golden opportunity to recognize all of my founding influences and how they present themselves in everyday life, through a shocking immersion in a new culture that does not hold the same base assumptions as my community does.

Can we ever pinpoint and grasp a successful life if we cannot justify our “simplest” actions?

A Letter to My Past Self

by Faizah, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Dear Faizah,

I remain connected to you through our memories. I re-envision the nights we spent lying in bed past 1 AM, thinking about those college applications that we really should get started on but can’t bring ourselves to do. I can still feel my stomach sinking as anxiety sets in and you wondered, “What if I don’t get into any of the colleges that I’m applying to?” Well, here we are now, 10 months later, in a place you would have never imagined for yourself to be in.

Firstly, thank God for the doors He has opened and will continue to open for you. Secondly, thank you for persisting through the rocky, at times unforgiving, road and for maintaining hope that things will turn out okay. Persevering was worth it. Today, you get to work with kids who have the brightest minds and the most colorful personalities. They are curious and brave, speaking their minds as they ask questions that are harder to answer than any college application you have faced. Their energy will motivate you, and put you on an emotional roller coaster everyday.

A day as a City Year is long.

Getting to and from your assigned partner school in Washington DC’s Ward 8, Moten Elementary School, is its own journey. As you travel north to south, you find yourself traveling from DC, into Washington, and back into DC. Witness the change in demographic of the passengers on the train – people in formal attire stepping off at L’Enfant Plaza and Navy Yard, and hordes of young school children clad in collared shirts boarding the train at Anacostia, crossing the river every morning in hopes that the other side may offer something better than the neighborhood that they live in. Step off into the dimly lit station, where the bus that passes Moten Elementary will come every 20 minutes, and at times, never at all.

Working at an inner-school is everything you expected and so much more. The back table is Ms. Faizah’s table, where kids will come for a quiet moment or when they struggle with focusing. The socio-emotional stress that consumes our students on a daily basis is subtle, but present. At the back table, I focus on keeping kids preoccupied with learning, turning their attention to complexly worded 4th grade math worksheets. I watch them light up once the standard subtraction algorithm registers in their minds; together we celebrate, and for a moment, all worries have flown away. The next morning is a reset. Perhaps Khamari will come in with a big hug for everyone, or we’ll see a fight break out as tension from events at home accumulates at school. I’ll never quite know what exactly my kids go through, and sometimes not knowing becomes overwhelming.

Then there is your partner teacher and the school administration, and the relationship between the two. You learn to get accustomed to different communication styles, last-minute field trips, and listening to passionate rants after dismissal. There is the school City Year team: a strong support net made of some of the kindest and most considerate individuals who never fail to bring a smile to your face. And lastly, there is self. The self that falls asleep on the Metro and jolts awake upon hearing “Georgia Ave.”, and the self that is slowly learning to forgive herself and keep moving.

But so far, each day has been worth it. Thank you for trusting the process, for taking risks, and never losing sight of the bright side. There is so much that is yet to come.

Sincerely, Faizah

The Importance of Listening (and Telenovelas!)

By Arlyss, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Traveling to Ecuador where I don’t know anyone or the language? Bold. Sharing my feelings and experiences on the internet for anybody to read? Bolder. Basing the whole experience on one thing I learned at Tufts? Boldest.

So what did I learn in my week at Tufts? Active listening. But what have I learned from speaking almost completely in Spanish for the past month? How to do it. We spent a lot of time discussing active listening, defining it as listening to understand, not just to respond. Communicating in Spanish forces me to listen to understand, because if I don’t, I won’t be able to respond, much less comprehend what’s being said. With English, I know the language well enough that I don’t always need to be paying full attention, but with Spanish an entirely different level of focus is required. I need to pay attention to body language, tone, and all the non-verbal markers, because even if I can’t understand the words being said, I can at least tell whether I should smile or frown, laugh or nod solemnly. 

I’m usually the type of person to listen intently in a conversation, but every now and then I zone out, letting my mind wander or thinking of my response. Let me be the first to say, I really, truly cannot do this here in Ecuador. If I zone out for even a brief second, I’ve missed a part of a sentence, a whole meaning. (Although it’s likely that I didn’t know what was being said anyway.) I need to understand every bit of information I can to piece together the whole idea, because missing one part may mean missing the whole story. I am forced, for the better, to prestar atención if I plan to learn, or even understand, anything.

I’m used to doing a lot of the talking, but not here. I’m sitting here, I’m hearing words, but what are they trying to say? Am I supposed to respond now? How do I say that in Spanish? I feel both more and less present. More present in that I am so much more actively involved in trying to interpret what is going on around me, but less present in that I do not have much of a part in what is happening. I feel less important, but in a humbled way. I’ve always loved hearing stories, and now as I’m constantly listening, I always have that opportunity. 

What are some of my favorite stories to listen to regardless of the effort needed to actively listen? Telenovelas, of course! At dinner every night, my Ecuadorian family and I sit down to eat at the kitchen table, where an old-fashioned TV with an antenna sits above our fridge. Together we watch telenovelas. My American family is not too supportive of my addiction to dramatic and reality TV, so I could not feel more welcome here watching those shows! As we watch the Ecuadorian shows, I ask about words and concepts I don’t understand and my family willingly fills me in on what’s happening, bringing us closer through our love of the drama and expanding my understanding of Spanish.

Together my family and I have lived through a woman stranded on an island, men disguised as women trying to hide in jail, and—the most crucial part to any dramatic show—the affairs, engagements, and everything in between. There’s no better way to bond than obsessing over overly-staged, melodramatic, life-altering events of other people who are completely fictional. Not to mention, my family and I are growing closer because with every episode, I learn more Spanish, and our language barrier shrinks just a little bit.

While it’s definitely not easy living every day immersed in a different language, I’m going to be an absolutely amazing listener by the end of these nine months (and hopefully a much better Spanish speaker!). For now I am not dismayed by the long path ahead of me to fluency, but excited for the quality time I will spend with my family listening and learning Spanish, and the telenovelas that will bring us closer, one dramatic event at a time.