The Arrow

zoeby Zoe, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Culture shock. Homesickness. Loneliness. Lingual incompetence. FOMO (fear of missing out). Just a few on the list of difficulties I should be prepared to face during my eight months in Brazil. It was no surprise when these topics were introduced in both orientation at Tufts and upon arrival in Curitiba for in-country orientation, as they were things I’d been worrying about and mentally-preparing myself for since March of last year. So, by mid-September when I left Curitiba and moved to my permanent host community in Imbituba, I felt prepared. I felt as though I’d been briefed on all the problems I could possibly face and I knew exactly how to deal with them, get back on track, and move on. But where’s the challenge in that? I thought that because I’d paid attention in orientation, I had a manual on how to deal with every problem that could possibly be thrown at me. This would be true if life was in black and white. The problem is that about 99% of this world is grey area, every situation is different, and most problems cannot be anticipated.

Rain. I never thought it would present such a problem, primarily because when I thought of Brazil, an intense weather pattern spanning the entire country never crossed my mind. I came with the expectation of sun day in and day out, rather than constant rain. I never guessed that one of the first words I’d learn in Portuguese would be “chuva,” and that I’d see the sun only five times in my first two months in country.

In Imbituba, I worked at an organization called Projeto Baleia Franca, which monitors that activity of the Southern Right Whale in this area of Brazil. Unfortunately, monitoring was canceled more often that not due to the unusual weather conditions, and there was little activity on the days we could work as the whales migrated north early this year. The problem with the rain was that it instigated the types of problems on which I was briefed at orientation. The types of problems I was expecting to have in the first place. The unexpected amount of free time allowed more time to think about my family, friends, and old life I left behind in London and the United States.The rain made me pity myself and it gave me a negative mindset.

About four weeks ago, I moved north from Imbituba to the island of Florianopolis. Here, I work as a volunteer an organization called R3 Animal which rescues, rehabilitates, and releases all types of animals brought in as a result of injury, sickness, illegal trafficking, or absence of parental care. I leave my house at 6:25 each morning, run three miles to the center of the town in which I live, catch another bus to work, work from 8am until 5pm, and then make my way home again. It’s an incredibly busy day that requires a concrete schedule. It’s tiring, but being on the go makes me happy.

Yes, it’s still raining. No, I don’t harbor such resentment towards the rain anymore. It’s not because I actually like it. Like anyone, I’d much rather be lying on the beach than having to constantly peel wet clothes from my body and hang them to dry. But I thank the rain for teaching me so much about myself. The two months in Imbituba were challenging and uncomfortable, but I look back on those two months and can’t believe how much I learned about myself. I learned that I need structure in my life, and that I don’t do well with a blank schedule. I learned that I do better in an environment in which I have more independence and am able to change settings when necessary. And maybe one of the most difficult things; I learned to accept something that I could do absolutely nothing to change: Mother Nature.

“An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. When life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means it’s going to launch you into something great. So just focus, and keep aiming.” This year is all about difficulties. And if I leave Brazil in April having had more challenges than comforts, I’ll feel successful. Right now is about focusing and refocusing, aiming and re-aiming. I’m not sure when I’ll be launched but when I am, I know I’ll hit something great. Something I wouldn’t have dreamed of hitting before this year.

A Letter to the Editor

stormby Isabel, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Dear Isabel,

I’m writing this letter to you to let you know everything is going to be OK. This is for you when you first arrived; scared and confident in equal measures. This is for you when you moved in with your host family; terrified, lonely, and unsure if you could make it. This is for you a few weeks in; feeling like you should be more adjusted than are. And this is for you last week, or the other day, or yesterday, or even days or weeks from now. This is for you whenever you were or are feeling lost, dispirited, confused, scared, or apathetic. This is for you.

It gets better.

I know you know this. But I also know that some part of you doesn’t believe it – that some part of you is thinking “but what if it doesn’t?” “What if I always feel unsure of myself?” “What if I never improve my Spanish skills or make friends or feel useful at work?” I know that a very small but insistent voice in your head is telling you that because you’ve felt down for a while, you’re always going to feel this way. And that’s an easy trap to fall into. Your mind projects your past experience onto the future and assumes that the patterns will hold true. And generally this works pretty well. However, in the case of adjusting to a new situation, the future is nearly always better than past experience would indicate. And, even harder for the brain to grasp, it gets better in an exponential way. That is, as things get easier, they get easier much more quickly as time goes on.

I know this is hard to remember when you’re uncomfortable and irritated and just want to go home. But although things may be hard now I promise they look up in the future. You are going to have so many wonderful experiences here, many of which I haven’t even experienced yet, that I hate to think of you pining away in your room, grumpy and frightened of the world. I promise, it gets better. Or, as my parents like to put it, “this too shall pass.”

And if you still don’t believe me, think of it this way: remember all those bad memories from days or weeks ago? Yes, I know I just told you not to, but bear with me a little. Do have them in your mind? Good. OK, now look at how far you’ve come since then. Look at how much more comfortable you feel with your family, your work, and León in general. You’ve had long(ish) conversations entirely in Spanish. Kids at work come and hug you on sight and ask you to play. And you can take the bus or walk anywhere you need to go. I know you think you can’t do it, but look at you! You are doing it!

And sure, maybe there will always be those days or moments when life just seems impossible. But there are also moments that make it all worth it. And after all, wouldn’t you rather be having those hard stressful moments here in Nicaragua than back home at college? I know I would.

One last piece of advice: marvel at the good, take the bad in stride, and always remember, this too shall pass.


An older and hopefully slightly wiser Isabel

Friend or Foe


by Gabriel, Tufts 1+4 Participant

I make the trip to R3 Animal Monday-Friday with the goal of helping the struggling animals that have wound up there. Yet still, with these caring thoughts in mind, I get pecked on the head repeatedly by toucans, attacked mercilessly by many a parrot and have to play chicken with angry marmosets (squirrel-sized monkeys) on a daily basis. I forgot to mention the marmoset and the agouti that take pleasure in purposely peeing on me after I pet them. There is also the parakeets that I let ride around on my shoulder…until they attack my ears like the mango they just finished eating and then proceed to poop on me from their new perch. Then there are the Capuchin monkeys. Oh the Capuchins. Insane does not even begin to describe them as they scream and frantically try to grab my hands, meanwhile shredding my rubber gloves every day while I simply try to remove their food dish.

Well I may have gotten a little carried away there and forgotten to mention their not so evil counterparts. I will grudgingly admit that not EVERY parrot is evil, just the vast majority. Some of them are ready to say “oi” or spin in circles in memory of their owners. The agouti and marmoset who seek to pee on me also happen to be very lovable and some of my favorite animals at the rehabilitation center. The baby howler monkey and oncilla (little spotted wild cat) are always ready to cuddle and the anteater is all too happy to rest in my arms with its bottle. The baby tayra (weasel family) is a little different and chooses to attack strangers but remain loyal to his caretakers, which I give him credit for. Some of the younger Capuchins happen to be quite adorable and very curious, always seeking to grab a human finger with their little hands.

As I hope you can begin to realize these animals each have a unique personality and response to the help they are being offered. They vary from hostile to almost grateful, and everywhere in between. Their response is strikingly similar to that of humans in their time of need. People are always going to react differently when kindness is presented to them. Whether you be human or animal there are people out there that are willing to help and expect nothing in return.

Besides these everyday adventures I had a very unusual opportunity one day. I was able help remove a humpback whale from the ocean and perform an autopsy on it. The Environmental Police failed to tow the 8 meter whale from the ocean with a four wheeler, truck and a backhoe. Finally they slowly removed it by pulling it little by little with the rear bucket of the backhoe while the stabilizer legs were down. After the whale was high on the beach, we put up caution tape to keep the crowds at bay and got to work. The whale was identified as a female humpback, a little over a year old, on its way from the ocean near northern Brazil, to spend the summer near Antarctica. After removing large tracts of blubber we discovered large hematomas (blood in the tissue similar to a bruise) which were the cause of death. The marine veterinarians on site believed that this was most likely the result of a collision with a boat. Did you know that whales have lice? Neither did I, but this one had lots. The whale also had a small piece of fishing net stuck near its mouth as well as about ten large, parallel scars, probably from a boat propeller. We discovered a type of small shrimp in the whale’s stomach that are not supposed to exist in this region of the ocean as well.

Obviously humans had not been friends to this whale, but a male Capuchin monkey at R3 Animal had been a victim of more purposeful crimes. I was shocked when I heard his story. He came to R3 Animal with stomach cancer and can never be released into the wild because of that. He developed this cancer because he had been illegally held in captivity and given alcohol and cigars for entertainment.

On the bright side a troop of Capuchin monkeys at R3 Animal is getting released this week. Wish them luck!

A Summit Without Silicon


by Daniel, Tufts 1+4 Participant

I’ve always wanted to go to a keynote presentation. You know, those events that happen a few times every year where Google or Apple proclaims to unveil the future in front of the gaping eyes of thousands of tech nerds and pundits. After hours of anxiously waiting, they pull back the curtain and the world gasps at their newest chunk of silicon and curved metal that is somehow nearly identical to the slightly older and slightly different chunk of silicon and curved metal unveiled just over a year earlier; the world gasps at “the future”. But unlike the iPhone 7 which will be the “future” for maybe a solid 7 months and will really only be a slightly souped up version of its predecessor, the future talked about here, at the 2015 Social Good Brazil Summit, was the future of the world.

At this event, there was no product. No chips of silicon behind a velvet cloth or over-intensified video showing edges and curves of metal. There were just people, ideas, and the intersection between the two that amounts to possibly the single most important word of this era: innovation.

daniel2When I stepped foot into the behemoth building that housed the 2015 SGB Summit my jaw unhinged; like a snake eating a rat whole unhinged. For five minutes I had to remember to breath as the blood rushed to my eyes taking in everything around me. Eventually, my adrenaline settled into an active lull; the machine running like clockwork around me as I watched Social Good Brazil’s small team of 12 and a set of 40+ volunteers moving to and fro preparing posters, speakers, badges, trash cans, you name it; they were making sure everything was perfect. And it was.

Day one of the conference comprised much of the social innovation umbrella. From discussing governmental innovation with an actual Brazilian Congressional Representative to sharing the latest news from inside the collaborative economy. Drug kingpin economies to crypto-currencies, we had it all. This last bit of course came from our headline speaker, Alexa Clay; the herald of misfits, weirdos and hackers herself.

Alexa clay is the author of The Misfit Economy, ”a bestselling book exploring how the other half innovates, drawing on stories from the lives of gangsters, Pirates, hackers and slum dwellers.” She is an Amish-dressing, LARPing expert, who will actually be living in Brazil for the next two months. But Alexa’s not here for the beaches, or Samba; she’s here for the culture, or, more specifically, the underground economies. The two she is most excited about: The Floripan witch economy and Shamanism, both of which she says have evolved quasi-business models to keep their traditions alive.

daniel3 She’s not your usual headline speaker, but she fit, kind of perfectly, in our two day, Social Good Brazil experience that gathered over 2,000 misfits, entrepreneurs and social advocates to learn the newest ways in which people are making the world a better place.

But there was still day two and it did not disappoint. With members from Google, Kiva, UNDP and a host of homegrown Brazilian entrepreneurs, everyone left with their heads brimming with new ways to fight for social good. We also held the award ceremony for the Social Good Brasil Lab program, SGB’s social innovation accelerator, with the crowd voting on who they thought had made the best pitch the day before. The winner, Centista Que Virou Mae, is a community of Brazilian scientist mothers supporting women in motherhood and self-empowerment and was awarded a seed fund investment of R$ 20,000! With second place, Letras de Medico and third place Praças not far behind; each receiving R$16,000 and R$13,000 respectively.

daniel4Day two was followed by a day of hands-on social innovation. Participants spent time with some of the summit speakers and a host of other social innovators; fully immersing themselves in many aspects of social innovation. Participants designed their first apps, peered 15 years into the future and actually partook in a new form of social movement called Play the Call: the SGB summit is much more than just talk. So next year, just think: three more days at the office or three days learning, living, understanding and networking your way into the future of social innovation. The choice is yours, we just hope we’ll see you there with us next year!

Quer chimarrão?

(Would you like some mate tea?)


by Aberdeen, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Would you let a frazzled stranger into your house if they asked to use your electricity to charge their phone? Would you feel comfortable sharing tea with an unknown amount of others that used the same straw?  Would you invite a foreign stranger to a family cookout after only knowing them for about five minutes?  If you’re Brazilian, you may have answered yes to these questions without pause.  The generosity and pure interest in helping others that I’ve experienced in my travels of Brazil has been astonishing.  Others’ well-being and happiness are always put before one’s own interests.  It is true that Brazilians share everything.  Apples, blankets, cars, stories, surfboards, clothes, advice. Families that seemingly have so little to give, give so much.  Every day I am reminded of how kind people can be.  The people I meet are well aware they may never see me again, but they ask for nothing in return for their generosity.

I am welcomed with open arms everywhere I travel in Brazil and all I can hope is to bring this love with me wherever I go.  In light of recent global events, all I wish is for everyone to treat others the way I’ve been treated here.  In delving into a new culture, a new life, a new country, I’ve been stripped of any confidence, communication abilities, and way of life that I’ve built for the past eighteen years.  I was made vulnerable and forced to start over again. Thank goodness I was surrounded by Brazilians.

When asked to report on something important that I’ve encountered this bridge year, the pure kindness of the people I’ve met is what I choose to discuss.  It isn’t the difference in food.  It isn’t that one time a three foot long lizard casually emerged from the bushes behind me and flicked his tongue at me in distaste.  It isn’t a story of how two surfers saved me from a stray dog that targeted me as his prey.  It’s a human behavior that shouldn’t even be shocking to me.  I want to contribute to a world where it isn’t odd to see unfiltered love.  This is what I was looking for when I decided to take a year abroad before college.  I knew there were lessons to life that I needed to grapple with before even thinking about calculus.

For those reading in hopes of learning about what us 1+4 kids are up to this year, this is it.  I am learning how to live, not just exist.  I had visions of returning from this year with more “direction”, e.g., an answer to the looming question “What do I want to study at college?”, and I don’t think I’ll return with that question answered.  I’m now okay with unanswered questions.  Anyone who knew me well three months ago may not believe this, but it’s true.  These three months have changed me.  I can’t wait to see what I can do with eight.

Tiquismiquis (The First Thanksgiving)

thnxsgivingby Daniela, Tufts 1+4 Participant

So long ago the pilgrims celebrated a successful harvest after their first year in a foreign country. Today, a similar celebration took place on Calle de Carmen Montoya. We celebrated an exchange of cultures after our first, nearly, three months in a foreign country. We had Thanksgiving!

When it comes to preparing Thanksgiving in Madrid, the first thing you do it head to Taste of America. This is a store that sells “American” goodies. We stocked up on canned pumpkin, cranberry sauce and marshmallows. My co-chef Madeline and I were confident in our cooking abilities, but taking on a whole turkey is a lot to ask of two eighteen year olds. We approached a whole chicken instead. With the help of Jaime Oliver, Food Network and our moms back home we made a pumpkin pie, an apple pie (gluten free), sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green beans, stuffing, cranberry sauce, biscuits (gluten free), a whole chicken, turkey breast, gravy and whipped cream! The best part was the biscuits tasted like biscuits, the stuffing tasted like stuffing and the pumpkin pie tasted like pumpkin pie! We sat down to a table full of food and all six of the girls hated it!

thnxsgiving2thnxsgiving3They didn’t hate all of it, mostly the cranberry sauce and the sweet potatoes. I am still not a huge fan of Thanksgiving food, and watching the young girls try cranberry sauce for the first time brought back so many memories. The girls were very vocal about their disdain for our “sabores fuertes.” Coincidentally, I just learned the word for picky last night: tiquismiquis. I casually slipped the word into the conversation, and it ended up offering an insight into the different aspects of cultural exchange. One of the girls remarked how we probably felt the same way about Spanish food, the educator of the home then pointed out that he couldn’t tell because we never expressed it. The conversation was light hearted and insightful, with plenty of detours for laughter.

Although 6/10 of the table were not enjoying their special dinner, the atmosphere of Thanksgiving was all around. There was love, laughter, conversation and of course gratitude. The most successful part of the night was sharing what we were each grateful for. Leyre was thankful to see her mom, Ana was thankful for lack of homework and abundance of good grades, Lucia was thankful for being on Earth, Eva was thankful for her sister, and both Carmen and Yaiza were thankful for their friends. Juan Carlos, the educator was thankful for his first Thanksgiving. As I said before I am not a Thanksgiving food fanatic, but today for the first time in my life I was thankful for Thanksgiving. I am thankful that when I return home I will remember how hard we all laughed at the table. I will remember the hours Madeline and I spent in the kitchen, and the joy we felt when our food was better than just edible. I will remember the six tiquismiquis who only wanted to try the pies. I will remember the joy in Juan Carlos’ face when he saw the table filled with foreign food. I will forever remember the first Thanksgiving in Montoya.