Snapshots from Nicaragua


by Isabel, Tufts 1+4 Participant

I have been in Nicaragua exactly two months today and of the myriad of emotions, sounds, experiences, and images, these are five of the most prevalent.

1. A high five and a fist bump
From the very first day I arrived my host dad gave me a high five and a fist bump as a form of greeting whenever he saw me. Just came home from work? High five, fist bump. Sitting in the rocking chair reading, surrounded by the sounds of the television, honking horns, and chatting from the kitchen? High five, fist bump. Strolling around the park under a full moon with my two year old host niece’s plump hand clutched in mine, chatting about soccer and roller skating with my fifteen year old host sister? High five, fist bump. I have come to expect and look forward to this often multi-daily occurrence. To me it signifies my status as a part of the family – welcomed, accepted, and loved.
2. The brightly colored, tightly packed buildings softly shining in the afternoon light. 
I am fortunate enough to get the opportunity every day to walk along the streets as the afternoon turns into evening. And every day as I do I get to witness the magical hum of the city as it unwinds from work or school. Laughing teenagers in school uniforms stroll along the streets, passed by a never-ending stream of taxis, bicyclists, and horse carts. Venders on each corner sell everything from tortillas to fruit to candy. And as the sun approaches the horizon it just kisses the buildings, softening the sharp edges and lending an aura of tranquility to the whole scene.
3. The smiling faces of all the children I work with. 
Every week day I get up, and I eat a bowl of papaya and bananas for breakfast, and I head off to another hard day of work. Six long hours of wrangling unruly kids into doing their homework or playing games fairly, preventing crying and fighting at every turn. But, there are moments that make all the madness worth it – like when the sweetest little girl comes running up to me just to say ‘hi’ and give me a hug. Or when one girl decides she wants to do my hair. Or when it suddenly starts pouring and everyone is laughing dancing in the rain.
4. Chatting and laughter from the other volunteers
Whether it is simply meeting in a cafe to grab a quick smoothie after work, or going on an excursion together for three days, the other volunteers here have been incredibly supportive and understanding of everything we are going through. I can always count on them for a sympathetic ear or a quick laugh. In just a few short months I am so comfortable around them – a shared challenge will do that it seems. But regardless, I’m always happy to see them – on the street, in a workshop, or at the beach.
5. A flood of children walking into a room too small to hold all of them.
Another volunteer and I decided we wanted to teach English classes at a local extracurricular school. Our first day of class we were ready, armed with a lesson plan, posters of classroom expectations, and our own expectations that the class would hold ten students – fifteen at the most. None of that, however, could prepare us for what we found on arrival. A room full of children, more arriving every moment, all eagerly waiting our presumed expertise. Fifty two students showed up that day. Fortunately we later narrowed it down to about twelve, but I will never forget the feeling of helplessness as we faced the sea of children with no idea what we had just gotten ourselves into.

Encountering the Unexpected

By Steven, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Sometimes the best things are those that are wholly unexpected. For me, this doesn’t sit easy. I don’t even like the idea: as a child I would spend countless hours questing to discover the hidden treasures that were my Christmas and birthday presents. I would spelunk in the dark confines of my grandfather’s closet and take a visual inventory of everything in my garage, searching for the gems I knew were hidden there. Sometimes I would find success while most of the time, my plans were foiled. I would discover nothing because my grandfather got smarter, trickier perhaps. But, as he got smarter, so did I: my grandfather would certainly hide the present, but what about the receipt?

So, what does my questing for presents mean? It means that I love knowing and I’ll do almost anything to discover new things – to conquer the unexpected. There’s nothing wrong with expecting a few things or even knowing something. But, sometimes the rewards are so much better when things are completely unexpected.

lab brazil
The lab at IFSC

In Brazil, learning to embrace the unexpected has provided me with some of the best experiences thus far. Never did I expect that I’d be working at a local university called IFSC (Institute Federal Santa Catarina) where I’ve had the opportunity to work in a biotechnology laboratory, to help teach English, and to expand Google maps to places that they haven’t ventured yet. Never did I expect to be living with my capoeira teacher and his family – a surefire way to improve my capoeira skills! Never did I expect that my new host brother would be progressive, open-minded, and excited to help me explore Brazil. Never did I expect to venture to the jeweled crown of pizza places: a rodizio pizzeria (imagine unlimited pizza with never imagined toppings that are magically brought around by servers). Never did I expect to be sitting at a batizado, an epic capoeira event I can’t yet properly put into words, typing this entry. I can’t wait to see what other unexpected experiences I will have.


Now, all of that being said, I’m still going to search tirelessly for these amazing experiences, for the Christmas and birthday presents, I request. However, I realize that along my journey I cannot and do not want to avoid the experiences that are wholly unexpected. Even though I can’t exactly be sure if I’ll check off the few things on my hypothetical wish list, I know I’ve already checked some things off that I didn’t know were on my list. It’s only been two months, but I know that I’m no longer the young man that hopped on a plane to the one and only Brazil. I’m changing not only from the experiences that I expected to change me but from those that were entirely unexpected as well!

Making the Most of Madrid

By Daniela, Tufts 1+4 Participant

It has been nearly seven weeks since I arrived in Madrid, and I am just where I need to be. Madrid moves slowly, but there is not a moment that goes by that is not infused with energy. It is actually a bit confusing at times, because so much is happening but it happens during a long period of time. Madrid breathes slowly, but has a quick heartbeat

Park adventures with Eva (resident of Montoya).
Park adventures with Eva (resident of Montoya).

I have noticed a similarity in pace at my placement. At the Montoya house, the girls take their time with everything they do. Yet while we may be spending an hour on one activity, that hour is jam packed with little moments that are crucial. The service occurs in those little moments. Those little moments are what transcend the work from simply lending a hand to truly investing. Being at the house for a few hours everyday doesn’t provide much time for activities, but it provides a plethora of precious moments to learn from. It is also important to remember there is work that can be done outside of my time at my placement. For example, I have begun to write down the given circumstances of each girl in the home. Who they are, where they come from, and why they are part of the foundation. This has proven helpful in terms of approaching each girl individually.

Continue reading “Making the Most of Madrid”

Velping? Ok!


By Madeline, Tufts 1+4 Participant

What does it mean to volunteer?

I recently found a second volunteer opportunity here in Madrid. The NGO where I’m working in the mornings is called Serve the City. It works as a match maker for big corporations and NGOs. Once Serve the City establishes a relationship between the two, there is a newfound responsibility given to both in order to develop a stronger community through service and collaboration. In the U.S. and Great Britain, this is implemented as CSR or Corporate Social Responsibility Policies. Here in Spain that is a foreign term. Serve the City is looking to change that.

Additionally, they work as a database of volunteers for NGOs and vice versa. The project I am currently working on is the Facebook page for an app called Velping. The app, that is currently being developed, is for volunteers to be able to log their hours of service and see what kind of social change they are initiating. They can receive feedback from the NGOs that they are helping too. My project is to find meaningful and intriguing content to feed through the Facebook to get people thinking about why they should volunteer in general.

For me, that is a great question. Why am I volunteering? Why did I decide to fly hundreds of miles away from home and live in a foreign country so I could spend a year of my time serving others? I’m lucky because in exchange for my 6-10 hours a day given to foundations – for incredible causes might I add – I get to live in a foreign country and experience Europe at a very young age. But then in addition, volunteering gives me so much more.

1. When you volunteer, you choose. You choose where, when, and how you will work keeping in mind the needs of your community and the organizations.

2. You gain experiences and memories. From business and marketing skills to child psychology to cooking skills, there are experiences in everything when it comes to volunteering. You gain skills, build a resume, and take home a piece of good and pure memory to hold onto.

3. No matter how big or small, you make a difference. A very interesting thing I was told when coming here was “this is a chance to see how much of yourself you can give without seeing an immediate impact.” This is hard. I feel it everyday that I struggle with my girls or my schedule is not perfectly ideal. But at the end of the day I’m happy because I know eventually I will make a difference.


New Settings

by Zoe, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Exactly one week ago I left my temporary home in Curitiba. It was here where, although I ultimately really enjoyed spending time with my host family, I experienced my first “low” (clearly shown in my previous post). Luckily, almost immediately after posting, I made it out of the trough and began to feel much more comfortable in my new setting. My temporary host family, Elaine, Julia, and Henrique, lived in an apartment building in an area of Curitiba called Cristo Rei. They were amazing and really welcomed me into their family. I experienced various new, Brazilian things, including my first feijoada, a huge gathering of extended family and friends with a ton of food.

The actual feijoada is rice and black beans cooked in pork, with various different toppings and peeled oranges on the side to help with digestion (that’s when you know). It’s a big tradition in Brazil, and one of my Curitiba family’s favorites.

zoe2Although I ended up having a relatively positive experience in Curitiba, I was definitely ready to move to my permanent community, get out of the city, experience new things, breath some fresh air, and live freely. I was ready to start my life as I will know it for the next 7 months. My life in Imbituba, Santa Catarina, Brazil.

zoe3My house is on this big hill at the southern end of Praia da Ribanceira, a beach about 5 kilometers north of the town of Imbituba, Santa Catarina. The neighborhood in which I live, called Vila Esperança, is situated on both the hill and the sand dunes, and is home to about 1,000 people. My host parents, Anne and Laureci, both grew up in this village and all of their family members live on the hill with us. In Vila Esperança, if you’re not family, you’re friends. Everyone knows everyone, something completely new to me after having lived in such urban and suburban settings my entire life.

zoe4Everything’s different here.

  1. My family speaks absolutely no English whatsoever, so it’s 100% Portuguese all day everyday.
  2. Sleeping until 7:30 is considered sleeping in and going to bed after 10:30 is relatively unheard of.
  3. Lunch is the main meal of the day, and it’s usually eaten with extended family and friends (especially on Sundays). We have coffee in the late afternoon, and rarely have dinner.
  4. There are bugs. Everywhere.
  5. The beach is right outside my front door.
  6. There are more cats and dogs than mentally possible to keep track of.
  7. When you look down at the ocean from up on the hill, or when you drive on the road along the beach, or basically any time you look at the water, there are whales. Without fail.
  8. Everyone eats a ton of seafood.

zoe5I love it. The papaya and coffee every morning for breakfast. The walk down the hill to the beach, followed by runs along the beach, followed by sitting on the wooden whale-watching platform built off the side of the hill above the water, followed by the steep, thigh-killing hike back up the hill and back home. The random visits made by various family members. The tiny bananas. The seafood risotto. The nighttime drives along the beach with Anne, Laureci, and Dyllan, blasting and singing Dyllan’s favorite (North) American music like Timber and Whistle. He knows all the words even though he has absolutely no clue what any of them mean. It’s all so great. Even the fishing. When Laureci asked me if I wanted to go fishing for shrimp (camarão), he didn’t mention that it entailed going thigh deep into this lagoon separated from the ocean by a sand bank…when it was an hour after sunset and raining. Oh yeah, shrimp only come out at night. I didn’t know that until I was knee deep in water. Literally.

zoe6Anyway, long story short, I’ve absolutely loved my first week in Vila Esperança, Imbituba, and feel so comfortable that I can’t believe it’s been only a week. I can’t wait for what the next six and a half months brings, and whether it be ups or downs, I’m so ready to take it head on and let it change me for the better.


The Art of ‘Chill’

leon catedral

by Abigail, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Anyone that knew me before I left on this grand adventure probably wouldn’t associate the word ‘chill’ with me at all. Not freaking out, not stressing, not overthinking, and just going with the flow is not something I regularly practiced, and I honestly thought it was because I couldn’t. But after a month and three days in Leon, Nicaragua, where I’m thousands of miles away from my home, my lifestyle, and my comfort zone, I’ve learned that the most important thing you can do in any and all situations is have a little ‘chill.’ About 90% of the time, I haven’t a clue what’s going on, things didn’t go as planned, or I’ve never done what I have to do. I’ve quickly learned that they only way to survive this, learn from this, and just have fun is to just stay as cool as possible.

And yeah, that can be really hard. But I can safely say that after only a month, I am a proficient practitioner of ‘chill.’ That’s right people, Abigail Barton now knows how to chill. I don’t mean to brag but I’m getting pretty good at it….And I’m certainly going to be a professional at the end of these nine months. I’m happy that I’m learning this skill before I continue on with college and life. It’s a lot more fun! And if it’s not necessarily fun, it has enabled me to attack life with tenacity, with fearlessness.

A lot of the times I just find myself laughing at how little I know about the world, specifically the culture here in Leon. For some reason it just seems hilarious, like ‘okay, I’m actually here, I’m actually in a crowd of people at a festival and we’re all running and laughing and I have NO CLUE WHY but it’s kind of fun!’ Sometimes, though, it’s just too confusing to find funny. Or sometimes I’m too frustrated. I have to be really conscious of myself, and how I’m reacting. I constantly tell myself that it’s okay and it’s just how it is. Just going with it is the only way I’m going to discover the culture, and realize how special it is that I get a whole year to do this. All I have to do is breathe, smile, and continue forward with as much openness as possible.

It feels like I’ve been here forever, but at the same time like I just arrived. It feels like I’ve done so much already, yet there is so much that remains untouched. One of my favorite things to do so far is just go exploring, with other fellows or just by myself. I love seeing things, tasting them, smelling them. I get just as excited when I discover something drastically different as when I discover something uncannily similar to the culture back home. I’ve lived in the same small town my entire life, so the concept of living in a city is new to me. I’m kind of addicted to it, like the kid who doesn’t eat candy at home and goes the craziest at birthday parties. I love that there is always more to experience, streets I haven’t walked, food I haven’t tasted.

So far, I’ve taken a salsa class, tried Zumba, started a painting class, visited the art museum, walked the top of the cathedral, gone to the movies, sat in the park, eaten ice cream, cake, and crepes, visited with the other fellows, and more. These things have been fun, a little crazy, and adventurous. These are the things I put on Instagram. But I’ve experienced so much more that might not make for the best social media post, but have been just as important.

I’ve learned (still learning) to live with a new family. My host family is only three people, like my family back home. I have an eight year old host brother, and we both have to get used to the concept of siblings! I do laundry by hand. I make my own breakfast, like I do at home, but instead of toast I usually find myself having gallo pinto and an egg. Whenever my host family does anything, I go along with them, even if I don’t know what we’re going to do. I’ve gone to processions, festivals, supermarkets, and children’s birthday parties this way. I really love it! It’s hard to fit into a different family rhythm, but I expected nothing less. It’s things like watching my host brother’s face light up as we put out candles for the Virgin Mercedes, playing truth or dare with the birthday girl at her party, making an altar at my host grandmother’s house, and watching multitudes of parades (September is a big month for holidays here) that make me so grateful for being so immersed.

I’ve also been working at my partner agency Las Tias. The Association was started by a group of women in the market half a block from my house in the 1980s. What was at first a little corner for kids of the market to eat has become two locations that serve approximately seventy children and adolescents. I work at the adolescent location, and at first, that really terrified me. I’m still an adolescent myself, only about a year older than some of the kids that attend Las Tias. How could I be in this position of responsibility and supervision when I’m the same age? I still struggle with this question. However, I have found my age to be advantageous. I can be a friend to everyone, and become a source of support that is less formal. We talk about music a lot, or how to french braid. Mainly, I help with English and math homework. Some kids need more help than others, and some are less afraid to ask me than others. I made friendship bracelets one day, and taught one kid how to play chess. One morning we went to a parade for San Geronimo. Honestly, there is also a lot of down time. When the kids don’t have homework, there isn’t much to help with until lunch, or until the end of the day. Sitting and chatting, or playing on their phones is common. Since I have to think of a community development process for Amigos, I’ve begun to mill over what we can do to fill in this time with something fun and motivational for these kind and bright kids. It’s a daunting task. I still don’t know my role at the project very well, and feel useless at times. The key is being proactive, something I’ve realized and am working on improving. I am at the right host agency, and I’m confident of that. I just need a little time.

I am happy to say that I haven’t lost the excitement or anticipation that I had on the plane coming here. I constantly wonder what my day will bring. Many of my original apprehensions have been alleviated, but many new ones have emerged. Things are changing fast and so am I.