My Odyssey

By Nicolas, Tufts 1+4 Participant

As a kid, I never took much pleasure in reading. I would do it when I had to, but it was never something I did voluntarily. Dyslexia made it hard for me to read without giving me headaches, especially in English since it was my second language. Although I hated reading, I really loved being read to. I loved when my parents would read me stories about adventures and made up places. I must have listened to The Odyssey book on tape at least ten times growing up, and it was without a doubt my favorite story. Once I was older and my reading improved, I had the chance to read my favorite book for the first time. The difference when reading the words myself as opposed to it being read to me was tremendous. I loved experiencing the adventure of the story first hand. This was the first time I’ve ever had that feeling where I didn’t want to put the book down, not even for a second. I thought Odysseus was the most incredible character ever. His leadership and determination was incomparable and he was really someone I looked up to. This story really changed my life. I loved The Odyssey because of the thoughts it provoked me to fathom. Different conflicts and challenges, and questionings of what I would have done if I were in that position. I now know, the deepest pleasure of reading isn’t the words on the page, but what thoughts those words trigger in your head. What do those words make you feel and why.

My best friend, Raf recommended this book to me a couple weeks before I set off on this incredible journey of a year. He said it was one of his favorite books ever and he hoped I would like it as well. So I bought this book and brought it with me to Brazil. The story of Siddhartha is that of a young Brahmin boy who sets out to find the Buddha in hopes of learning the purest form of wisdom and self discipline. The story is filed with love and compassion and fear and hope, and the portrayals or these deep seeded human emotions made me reflect of the foundation of what it is to be human and what it means to be alive. I felt extremely connected to this story in the sense that, I too was a young boy taking off to gain wisdom in a far and strange land. This story provoked so much emotion out of me that it literally brought me to tears on several occasions. Once again, these words on paper changed my life. I feel so lucky to have felt these connections with these books and emotions that ultimately shift my thinking. In a way I feel like these books are very similar to my gap year; they both have helped me grow and mature a lot, even in ways I can’t see yet, and I’m super excited to discover the ways in which these changes will unfold.

Just Audrey

By Audrey, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Like an idiot, I came to Ecuador carrying expectations.

In August I looked ahead and saw “cool traveler adventurer Audrey,” the girl that could solve any problem. The girl that could speak fluent Spanish, change the world with her art, and maybe has a cool haircut. Independent, strong, and a citizen of the world: I saw myself as I thought that I should be, every secret aspiration candy-coated with stereotypes.

And now, over halfway through, I am dealing with the consequences of that notion of who I should be. Because I am not that girl. I am still scared and stressed and homesick sometimes, I still occasionally get lost, and I still worry about what I am doing here. I still feel like I have wasted time, and I still don’t really like eating guinea pig.

But while I am not the girl that I thought that I should be, I am also not the girl that I was. Coming from such a small town, my reputation had proceeded me. I had been Audrey the valedictorian, Audrey the vandal, Audrey the loud artist, Audrey the big fish in a small pond, Audrey the ambitious, Audrey the feminist, Audrey the creative. Identity upon rumor, I was known for many things, and other people’s expectations often proceeded me.

And now, sitting here in Ecuador, I am neither who I expected to become, or who people in my past thought that I was. I have settled into just Audrey. Coming to a place where nobody knew (or could pronounce) my name gave me the chance to forget about who other people thought that I was. I am imperfect, independent, creative, loud, ambitious, scared, and silly. I have not gotten rid of my imperfections or reputations, I have been forced to embrace them. I have learned to feel stupid when I could not understand something, and I have learned to feel proud of myself when I can. I have learned how to live in a city, and I have gotten better at making friends. Living here has taught me to enjoy my own company, and to embrace things that do not make sense to me. Overall, I have learned to be gentle on myself, and to let go. Instead of becoming what anyone expected, I have just become me, settled into my body and my personality in a way that I have not been before. I still do not fully understand this new version of myself, but now that’s OK, because nobody here pretends to either. I will still come back to Idyllwild differently than I left it, but instead of returning as “perfect, citizen-of-the-world, social justice warrior, fearless, adventurous Audrey”, I will just be me. And I could not be happier.

Thoughts on 13th, School, and Prison

by Katherine, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Last Friday, my team and I watched Ava DuVernay’s 2016 documentary, 13th, during our monthly social justice talk. As someone who usually only has the attention span for animated movies and sitcom television, I want to highly recommend this documentary. I’d consider 13th to be “required viewing” for anyone living in America.

The documentary starts off with an ominous reminder of the loophole in the 13th Amendment: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” In other words, all people are free… except those indicted for crime. Quoted from the documentary, “If you have [“except as a punishment for crime”] embedded in the structure, in this constitutional language, then it’s there to be used as a tool for whichever purposes one wants to use it.”

This loophole was immediately exploited. States began criminalizing black people for minor crimes. A law preaching “freedom” turned into something that allowed for the mass incarceration of black and brown people. A statistic mentioned in the documentary said that 1 in 3 black males born today will go to prison in their lifetime, compared with 1 in 6 Latino males, and 1 in 17 white males. Continue reading “Thoughts on 13th, School, and Prison”

Nicaragua – A Gap Year in Photos

by Brenna, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Roof of the main Cathedral in León

During my time as a Tufts 1+4 Nicaragua Fellow, my worldview has significantly expanded through this rich cultural experience. I appreciate the chance to encounter people and places in different walks of life from rural mountain areas, to coastal towns to vibrant city life in Leon. Through my internship and through independent travel, I have documented my time here in a series of photos. From rural schools to active volcanoes, I continue to fall more in love with this amazing country and the diversity of life here.

Fireworks during La Gritería, a Holiday that celebrates the Virgin Mary
Shrine of the patron saint of León
Macizo de Peñas Blancas in morning mist
A street corner on a rainy day
A view of the city of Matagalpa
Streets of León at sunset
Sunset on Volcán Telica, an active volcano near León
View from the top of Macizo de Peñas Blancas
Sunset in a community called El Chile near Matagalpa, Nicaragua
Sunrise over a volcano range including Telica
Volcán Telica at sunrise
A curious bull
A cow herd on Volcán Telica

Too Good at Goodbyes

by Trevor, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Sometimes, I feel as if I have an extra subconscious in Brazil.

Tchau Tchau

Besides abacaxi, muito, and beleza, these words are the most common I speak in Portuguese. I like the feeling the farewell has as it rolls around in a rhythmic circle in my mouth. No, I do not enjoy saying goodbyes to everyone I meet here in this welcoming country. I am actually thrilled to practice my broken, gringo Portuguese whenever I have a moment. In fact, departing from conversations is quite challenging here because the majority of people love rambling on about how cold the weather is whenever it drops below 70 degrees. Through learning and being immersed in a new language, I am constantly inside my head. My new subconscious presses me to use different parts of my brain while tearing my confidence into shreds. And although my high confidence is torn apart, I have had time to realize I have a phenomenal opportunity right in front of me to start new again in another language. In this experience thus far, I have identified things that I never had recognized before. And during this reflection time that is filled with conflicted ideas I cannot grasp, I noticed that I am very good at goodbyes—hence why tchau tchau is a common phrase I use.

Continue reading “Too Good at Goodbyes”

Dear Ecuador Fellows

by Audrey, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Dear Ecuador fellows,

During last week’s trip to Manta, in the 15 hours crammed into a busetta, I had lots of time to think about you all. We slept, sang, and ate ridiculous amounts of animal crackers. We talked about the moral obligations of warfare and social hierarchy, and somehow devolved into deliriously playing the triangle game in a guayacil mall.

The day ended hugging at the top of a mountain, watching the most beautiful sunset that I have ever seen. Sad music gave soundtrack to the clouds lapping at the foothills, the orange-streaked sky, and the endless horizon. We stood there looking into a bigger moment, of feeling alone and connected and sad and happy, experiencing a simple moment of beauty and youth, far from home, together.

When I decided to come to Ecuador, I was most scared of being alone. I had known my friends at home longer than my own sister, lived at their houses, and called their parents ‘mom and dad’. The idea of meeting new people, being given a new set of people to spend time with, terrified me. Coming from such a small and isolated town, I had never had to be myself in front of someone new. It was one of the hardest things that I have ever done.

Three months in, though, I have been met with only love and kindness, and I am writing this to repay with some love of my own.

I love that Kelsey will walk to my house with pan or manicho or matching tears when she hears that I am having a bad day.
I love that Henry always has the right music, and will play it loudly.
I love that on Wednesdays, Maxwell and I meet in Amauta and discuss our non-existent love lives.
I love that Chastity doesn’t complain that I ask her to translate literally everything, and that we bonded over the 27 bus the first week here.
I love that Jen always has it together when nobody else does.
I love that Stephanie always makes plans so that I do not have to, always picks up her ecuaphone when nobody else does, and always has a terrible chick-flick recommendation.
I love that Elizabeth embodies “laugh so that you do not cry”, and will meet me at the river at lunch to do just that.
I love that Maxine pretends to hate us, but that we catch him laughing along.
I love that Maxito uses the sus kind of California slang, and is hella good at dancing.

I love our Sunday movies, our half-hearted Halloween celebrations, and how it takes an hour of wandering to figure out what we are going to do. I love that we always listen to early 2000s emo music together, and sing every word. I love that you will help keep men from shamelessly harassing me on the street, and that we can laugh instead of cry. I love that I can wear my glasses without feeling self-conscious.

I love having a community to count on, because my biggest fear in coming here turned out to be one of the best parts.

Thank you for taking such good care of me,