Back Home

by Mikel, Tufts 1+4 Participant

After a seemingly eternal journey back home, that provided almost too much time to reflect and get emotional about my 9 months in Spain, we arrived in Boston. Passing through security a TSA officer said welcome home Mr. ‘Quintana’, crudely mispronouncing my last name in a very Bostonian accent. It was a subtle yet strong reminder I was back in the US.

When we arrived on campus we were joyously received by the Brazil fellows, signalling the start of the retreat. Being on campus with the other fellows, Jessye, Mindy, and other familiar faces, all interested in talking about our time abroad, created a small bubble that removed us for a few days from our new reality; being back home, being back in the US. It was helpful and at times emotional to reflect on our 9 months with people who went through similar experiences, but was also a perfect time to share fun and crazy stories from our 9 months. We were able to reconnect with fellows from other countries and reinvigorate an important bond that will surely connect us in some way during our time at Tufts and beyond.

Continue reading “Back Home”

Dear Seattle

by Jiyoon, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Dear Seattle,

How are you? It’s been so long. A little more than eight months, to be exact. I’ve thought about you a lot. Back in August, I was so excited to leave. I didn’t think you had much more to offer me. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t satisfied with myself and blamed you for my inability to break out of my shell. I wanted to leave and see the world, to find a different, exciting, and passionate self.

And so I did. I experienced a whole new world, and I changed.

Madrid is great. Spain is incredible.

I love the people, the sunny skies and beautiful streets. People love to dance and are really good at it, they love to hug and give kisses and laugh. I love walking around the barrios on lazy Saturday mornings, getting lost in the chatter, in the silence, in the singing of the accordions. I love the small balconies that adorn the pastel buildings in Barrio de las Letras, the flowers at Tirso de Molina, and the cozy cafes in Lavapiés. I love how the bars and restaurants spill out into the streets and how all the Madrileños go crazy for futbol. I love the mariachi band that plays in Puerta del Sol, I love the artists that paint in front of the Prado, and I love the smell of bravas and tortilla that wafts into the streets during lunchtime. I love the kids I work with. I love the way they come running up to me to give me hugs, I love that all the girls always want to braid my hair, and I even love all the times the boys play pranks on me in class.

I also love the new friends I made in Madrid. I got especially close with Rebeca and Erica, the two other girls who came with me through this program. Rebeca’s strong (literally) and so down to earth. She’s reliable and understanding and has helped me out so much this year. She probably doesn’t know this, but she’s my secret role model and friend crush—everything from her extraordinary ability to make friends, her colorful hair, to her humor and memes. Erica and I are so similar but completely different. We’re both timid and introverted and always late. We’ve laughed until we were crying and out of breath, had endless enlightening and deep conversations, and have shared the same struggles. But, she hates butter, tomatoes, and condiments and has never tried a dumpling yet. She’s working on it though. I took her to a Korean restaurant and she loved it, especially the bibimbap. She’ll probably come visit you sometime. She’s humble and is always willing to learn, and I love that about her.

Madrid taught me to dance, to laugh, to care, to love, and to live. I fell head over heels in love with it. It helped me get to know myself a little better. It saved me from getting swept away by the crowds, from following a dream that wasn’t mine. I don’t think you can fathom my love for Madrid—maybe nobody really can.

But I realized I love you too. I realized that I love you with all my heart. When it rains, I close my eyes and breathe in the damp smell of wet grass, and it reminds me of you. I thought I hated the rain, but when those moments come I catch myself smiling. I miss your mountains and your pines, your rocky beaches and summer sunsets, and my family and friends who also call you home.

I’m sorry for having taken you for granted. I don’t regret it though. I decided to stop regretting anything, because there’s too much good in every moment to ever waste time regretting. I guess it just took me some time away to recognize that you are precious, beautiful, accepting, and fun.

I’m shattered at the thought of having to say goodbye to Madrid, but I’m glad you’re the home I get to come back to. I think you’ll like me better too. I’ve learned a lot and grown. I’m beyond excited for all the good food, wonderful people, and new adventures that you have waiting for me.

Mientras tanto, voy a aprovechar el tiempo que me queda en Madrid, comiendo toda la paella y tortilla de patata que pueda, bailando debajo del sol y la luna, y creando más recuerdos preciosos con la gente que quiero.

See you soon,


How to Pack Your Suitcase

by Jordyn, Tufts 1+4 Participant

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.

3. Pay Respects to Your Fallen Comrades

Oh, trusty tennis shoes. How they served you well before completely falling apart. Goodbye, jacket you left at that coffee shop across town. Farewell, cool wallet your host family got you in Argentina. My brethren, you will be missed.

4. Go Through Everything You Own at This Present Moment and Start Piles

You will be disgusted at the amount of paper you have accumulated. Begin with that quarter of the Amazon and sort it into three piles: Keep, Give Away, Return to Owner, and Garbage. Use this same technique for everything on your desk/bedside table and forward into clothes and miscellaneous.

5.  Pause for Existential Crisis about Your Materialistic Habits and How Much Overweight Baggage Costs

Oh God, how do you have so much stuff? How do you live this way when there are children just down the street who don’t have anything? You’re a monster!

6. Resume Sorting

7. Deal with Your Piles

You might need some help with your garbage pile. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. Next, write out your plan for returning everything you stole from your apprenticeship/host family/friends. Seriously, write it out. You’re going to forget. As far as your “Give Away” pile, you can decide what to do with the things you cannot stomach (or literally, afford) to bring back with you. Host siblings are always excellent candidates. Then, deal with your keep pile.

8. Plan Out Your Outfits and Necessary Items

Plan your laundry day out in advance. You almost definitely will not have a clothes drier, so plan for that as well. Avoid bringing damp clothes back, but if you must, do not forget a plastic bag to put them in.

9. Start Packing Your Suitcase(s)

Start with a completely empty suitcase. Wrap anything breakable–



11. Continue Packing Suitcase

Anyway, wrap anything breakable in clothes. A fuller suitcase is your friend for once, as your knick-knacks are less likely to move around a lot and break. Then, layer in clothes. Fold them in half and roll them up. They’ll take up less room.

12. Existential Crisis Part Two

Why did I buy so many books?? Why did I buy DVDs when I know they don’t play on US DVD players? This is so much unnecessary weight AhhhhhhHHHHHHHH.

13. Just Sorta Throw All Your Miscellaneous Stuff on Top

It’ll be fineeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

14. Liquids and Electronics in Plastic Bags

Separately, preferably. Just kidding, that’s a requirement. Don’t put that shampoo bottle with your extra chargers.

15. Think About Your Carry-On

What do you want on that 10 hour flight? Computer? A Book? If you forget your headphones, you can bet your sorry-ass you’re not even going to get on that flight. You’d rather live in this airport for the rest of your– Oh. Airlines have headphones. They suck, but they have them. Don’t stress about it too much.

16. Prepare Emotionally for TSA

They are aggressive. Be ready for that. The good ol’ US of A isn’t so lenient on liquids and plastic bags.

17. Pack Your Other Bag

The one inside. The culture shock is real. You will miss your comfort food in country and you are sure as hell going to miss your host family whether you had a great relationship or not. Not much changed while you were gone. It will be like a wormhole where the space you skipped to get to the other point was your time abroad. Write down what you don’t want to lose about yourself and establish a means of contact with your new loved ones early. They’re going to miss you too.

18. Expect the Unexpected

You will be shocked by anything and everything with your travel plans: arriving at a foreign airport, at English, or by something as simple as flushing toilet paper down the toilet. Be ready for it. After this year, you can do anything.

Me, a Teacher??

by Jiyoon, Tufts 1+4 Participant

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).

Continue reading “Me, a Teacher??”

Last Five Weeks

by Rebeca, Tufts 1+4 Participant

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!

For these reasons, I have acquired a feeling of contentedness with my progress this year. If I think about it, I have completely changed as a person. I have a broader perspective, am more open to meeting new people, and I know more about who I am and what I want in life. Although I’ll be SO sad when I leave my life here and my host family, I do not think I’ll have any regrets about this year. Looking forward I hope to spend more time with my host family and exploring Madrid, and to enjoy my last few weeks. Additionally, I have realized that I should go through college and life like I have been during my year abroad. Now I am used to always looking for an opportunity to do something more, to explore, to find my own fun. I think the stress of high school kept me from having that mindset about my town. I was happy to leave because I found it boring (Huntsville and I have a love-hate relationship), but now I look at it nostalgically and am thinking about exploring the natural beauty and cute destinations Alabama has to offer. This positive and curious mindset will benefit me for the rest of my life, which is why I will be forever thankful that I took a year to grow before going to Tufts.

Semana Santa

by Sawyer, Tufts 1+4 Participant

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.

After digging out old pieces of 2×4, we arranged them into a rectangle style box that we proceeded to fill with sawdust. In order to have a base for the project, we doused the sawdust with water, constantly leveling it out until we had a thick, solid base. It took over 2 hours of spraying water from the hose to sufficiently dampen the entire area. In order to create all of the different colors, we mixed ink with water and then massaged it into plain colored sawdust. Electric blues, hot pinks, greens like a fresh cut lawn, and oranges the color of sunset emerged from an exciting yet extremely messy process. My hands still appear to have a tint of green on them! All of the neighbors share the colors they created with one another in order to have more variety. Once the artists had outlined the dynamics of the mural, I was given what seemed to be the most complicated task possible, to form the face. Yet with a heavy amount of instruction, I learned how to maneuver my fingers and knuckles with pressure upon the sawdust to form the eyes, nose, and lips. Accompanied by more guidance, we filled in the different sections of the mural designated by the drawing into the sawdust base with the colors available. From there, we were able to use a rang of materials that others had brought including: volcanic black sand from nearby Poneloya beach, a white chalk powder, and glitter. Following these magic touches and touch-ups surfaced one of the most beautiful pieces of art I’ve ever seen (partially because I took part in creating it).

As I previously stated, I am no artist. Before coming to Nicaragua, I thought that I had it all figured out. My heart lied passionately within the STEM field, to the extent that anything contrary to this was as a diversion. I was so caught up with progressing my knowledge within the sciences that I subconsciously was ignoring a goldmine of information waiting at my backdoor, silently knocking as if awaiting no response. The minute I came here and started speaking a new language, the world of linguistics entered that door, filling my reality with more perplexity. Teaching English ignited an unknown curiosity that I now have for my own language, constantly comparing it to Spanish, wondering how over centuries communication came to develop the way it has: simple in practice, yet complex in theory. Nevertheless, becoming immersed in the Nicaraguan culture has allowed me to continue to explore the other side of my brain, one that I kept dormant for too long. Whether it is from participating in activities like the creation of alfombras to taking salsa and bachata classes, the arts have become an area of knowledge that I wish to continue to pursue throughout my life. I am grateful that I have taken the time to invite part of the vastness of knowledge into my reality, and I will continue to do so with open arms, an open mind, and an open heart.