A Thursday Afternoon


by Mateo, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Today marks the completion of my first week back at work. It was exciting, exhausting, and all the emotions in between. While it was a bit of an adjustment from relaxing at home all day, I have to admit that it was rewarding to finally be productive again. Having a vacation period gave me just the energy I needed to come back with more determination for the rest of the semester. Something I didn’t realize I missed so very much about where I work, are the daily hugs that the kids give me. I even got hugged by some of our new students, which was especially motivating.

When I think about how this week went by, it hits me that the first month of this year is almost over. Now more than ever, I find myself conscious of just how short my time here in Nicaragua really is. While I’d like to say that my days will always consist of playing with kids and joking around with my host family, I recognize that my time here is coming to a close.

This semester, more than ever, I find myself reevaluating what it means to be productive. When I first came, I arrived with the mentality of constantly achieving something. I would constantly look for tasks to do, try to engage the kids in lots of activities, and if all else failed I’d start cleaning. While this very quality is very valued in the U.S. workforce, I’ve come to understand that building relationships here matters so much more than anything else.

If I were to reflect on my most “successful” moment from this week, it’d be sitting around talking with one of the older kids from my work. He was the last kid left, so I decided to strike up a conversation with him. We ranged on topics from family life, to dreams and goals for the future. Our conversation ended up spanning more than two hours, and though the work site had already closed, we hung around and continued talking. I wasn’t necessarily getting a certain task done, yet I feel that in this moment of conversation and bonding, I was achieving so much more than I normally do at work.

Being in Nicaragua, I’ve learned so much more about connecting with other people. I’ve come to cherish the moments where I’m doing absolutely nothing but talking with other people. As I think about coming back home to the states, I hope I never let the pursuit of success prevent me from taking the time to bond with others.

Art Museums


by Evan, Tufts 1+4 Participant

In the past four months, I have visited eight different art museums a total of 14 times. This includes the Prado Museum five times, the Reina Sofía twice, plus the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay and the Vienna Art History Museum. I have never had anything against museums and have always passively enjoyed looking at art. However, I’ve never enjoyed it nearly as much as I’ve learned to this year. Every time I see a new artist, I immediately ask whomever I am with to tell me everything they know about the style, era, their peers, and anything else they might know. In my four and a half months here in Spain, I have spent hours and hours learning about Spanish language, art, history, and culture. But one of the most important things that I’ve learned is something about myself: I love learning.

I have heard adults tell my throughout my whole life how lucky I am to still be in school. I always nod my head and agree, feeling lucky to not be an adult and have to pay taxes and mortgages, etc. But I think that I have been missing the main point. The best part about being a student isn’t the lack of responsibility: it’s the wealth of knowledge sitting right in front of you, waiting for you to breathe it in. It’s being in a classroom of eager peers and listening to a professor explain something that they have worked their whole life to discover and cannot wait to share. It’s the feeling that everything that you do, every decision that you make, could stay with you for the rest of your life and shape your future. It’s a scary thought, but also very motivational.

I feel like an old nostalgic man talking about senior year of high school as though it were ages ago. But the point that I’m trying to get to is that I think I am starting to understand the purpose of my gap year. Before this thirst appeared to learn all I could about art, a subject that had barely peaked my interest before, I was looking forward to going back to school well-rested. I planned on returning with a brain full of Spanish and cleared of stress. Now, however, I will arrive back in Medford with a hunger for knowledge that before this year of service had always been quenched. This little taste of the real working world has made me realize how lucky I am to be returning to school for at least four more years to learn and take in all that I can before returning to work.

Christmas Down South


by Mikel, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Throughout my year so far I have continuously heard my host family talk about Sevilla, about their family, about their home, and about their beautiful city. Luckily during these holidays I was able to go with them to Sevilla and spend Christmas and New Years with them and their extended families’.

As we arrived in Sevilla at 2:30 AM and unpacked the car to temporarily move in with la Abuela I was surprised and amazed to see the whole street was lined with orange trees. The next morning I promptly asked if they were edible and was disappointed to hear they were not even good for juicing. That first day we met up with my host dad’s sister (my host aunt), her husband, toddler and 2 month old baby, and went to explore the historical center of Sevilla. I was taken aback and awed as we winded through small alleyways lined with hanging vines and plants from the apartment balconies. These alleyways opened into small plazas with statues, and their corresponding tales and legends from divine miracles to hanging heads and betrayal. As we navigated through the cobble stoned streets and alleyways lined with orange trees, beautiful tile work, and  overhanging greenery I felt a well of emotion of love, awe, and joy well up in me. We then entered a main street of the city center revealing the famous Giralda or bell tower of the Cathedral. The Cathedral, a beautiful and impressive architectural masterpiece, is not only the biggest Gothic cathedral in the world but is also home to an unbelievable amount of history from the Arab Mosque that once stood there to the resting place of Christopher Columbus’ remains. The beauty, magnitude, and history of what I was witnessing added to the well of emotion I had previously felt, almost bringing me to tears and definitively founding my love for this city.  In the future I would definitely want to live in Sevilla, preferably during the winters when its balmy 60 degree weather and sunshine is greatly accepted unlike its scorching summer heat.

Over the holidays there were also many family meals and opportunities for me to meet my host family’s extended family and take a break from sightseeing. At first I was slightly disappointed to see that they were no cousins of my age, most of them being much younger. As time passed however, I became to appreciate this. In my family I am pretty much in the middle of my cousins and the youngest cousin of my family is my brother who is already 12. As I only vaguely remember my little brother as a baby and toddler, the opportunity for me to hold babies, push strollers through Sevilla, and lift younger children up onto my shoulders and yell ‘saco de patatas’ (sack of potatoes) was new and very fun. I was able to see my host sister play with her cousins and take command of even younger cousins and my host brother seclude himself with his other cousins of his pre-adolescent age as they played new video games they had gotten for Christmas. It was unfortunate that I didn’t find anyone to go out with in Sevilla’s vibrant nightlife but it was a new experience that I thoroughly enjoyed and look forward to when I go back for Semana Santa and Feria de Abril.

My time in Sevilla was special for many reasons but the combination of sightseeing a beautiful and historical city while on a relaxing family vacation made my time in Sevilla memorable to say the least, and left me counting down the days until I get to go back.

Afraid of Change

photo credit Di Wu

by Sophia, Tufts 1+4 Participant

I wanted to do this year abroad because deep down I didn’t want to do it. Or, in simpler terms, because I thought it would be hard. I’ve developed a liking, maybe from 6 years of competitive rowing, to doing things that are hard because I enjoy the feeling of satisfaction after, which can be both a good and bad thing–it gives me more self-discipline, but it can also lead to me doing things that don’t really benefit me for the wrong reason. So, when I was given the opportunity to live and work in Brazil for eight months, my first thought was, like many kids, wow, that sounds scary but my second thought was, but think about how accomplished you’ll feel when you’re done! I literally went into this year thinking about how nice the feeling of coming home would be.

I didn’t really get the point of this bridge year abroad until recently. Before I left I rarely imagined myself actually having fun or really enjoying Brazil all that much, which is hard and embarrassing to admit, but true. Instead, I predicted myself missing home and crying every day and then having the best feeling in the world when I finally came back after eight months. There is the cardinal difference between the way I thought then and think now: I signed up for this program because I wanted the feeling of when it was OVER (kind of like a hard race), and now I realize how much fun I can have when I’m in it.

I was nervous about coming here for a multitude of reasons, but I recognize now that one of them was that I was afraid of the change I was constantly promised and anticipating. I loved my family, my house, my friends, my routines, my town, and one thing I’m happy about/don’t regret is that I was able to realize this before I left; this summer was one of the happiest times of my life and also filled with gratitude and love. I remember thinking to myself at Pre-Departure Training, I don’t want to change, I love myself and my life the way I am now and I just want to blink and have the next 8 months go by. (Side note, it’s been four and it feels much longer than a blink, but in a good way.)

One thing that is nice about getting further into my bridge year and closer to the time I go home is that the possibility of me or the people and things and places I love at home changing drastically goes down. I can more and more realistically imagine myself greeting my parents in the airport and crying and coming back to my house and running to jump into my old bed and having my friends come over and hug me and hug me and hug me and know that it really is going to happen so much sooner than it seems. Because I’m over halfway through, I can now tell myself that I’m going to see these people and things sooner than I said goodbye to them.  In a way, that’s a nice mindset–it’s useful and comforting when I’m really, really missing Nyack and it also makes me realize how much I love and treasure the people at home.

But I’ve found that, like in all things, there can be a balance. I can miss home and think about how long it is until I get home without sacrificing experiencing all I can in Brazil (which I used to stress about all the time), but more importantly, I can change positively as a person without the things I love and cherish so much about home and, frankly, myself, disappearing. And that balance feels so, so right, and makes me happier than ever about making my decision to take a pause before college.

Perks of Being a First Grade Teacher

by Jiyoon, Tufts 1+4 Participant

‘Tis the season! With the holidays fast approaching, my days at el Colegio Santa Maria la Blanca have been consisting of endless Christmas carols, or villancicos, paper snowflakes and ornaments, and of course, countless stories of cool gifts from Santa Claus and los Reyes Magos from past years and wish lists for the coming Christmas. It’s definitely been a refreshing experience spending the holiday season with such young kids. During the past three months working as an (almost) first grade teacher, I’ve been having the time of my life. Sure, I have to deal with the chaos of crying kids mumbling in Spanish or the frenzy of a mob of little girls begging to braid my hair, but all the perks that come with being a first grade teacher have made it all worth it.

First and foremost, I have my own little crew of assistants, sparkling-eyed and ready to help with any favor. The kids take great pride in being chosen to go fill my water bottle or getting to deliver a note to the next door teacher.

I also get a daily dose of self-esteem boost. Five-year-old kids seem to love just about any adult simply for existing—I’m always showered with hugs and kisses, the little girls bicker about who gets to hold my hand in line, and if I’m ever gone for a day, almost every kid in my class comes up to me the following day and asks, “Why weren’t you here yesterday? I missed you!”

Every day is a free comedy show. Sometimes, I literally have to bite my tongue to keep myself from bursting out laughing. The kids have the cutest dance moves and say the most ridiculous things. They wear their thoughts and feelings so plainly on their faces and sometimes it’s like I’m watching a melodramatic soap opera. Losing an eraser (or, as they say in Spain, a “rubber,”) is apparently the most devastating catastrophe, and the kids’ futile efforts to get the teacher’s “ok” to using the bathroom are quite amusing.

I get to polish up my British accent and grammar. Since the kids in Spain learn British English, a lot of the times they understand me better when I say words the British way. It’s really become a fun game I play with myself. They never seem to notice that my English randomly sounds different. I get to use words and phrases like “rubber,” “hasn’t got,” and “tidy up,” and it’s adorable seeing the kids suddenly understand me when I say “little” with an accent.

Last but not least, I get to constantly fall in love with and learn from a classroom of angels. For a while, I think I’d forgotten what it looks like to really smile from the inside out and radiate happiness. The kids taught me just that. Their innocence and capacity for kindness and positivity are truly incredible. As we become older, everything seems to become so complicated and tangled up among the stress of social norms, expectations, and media. I admit, I, too, was a victim. But now, I am finally learning simply to be and to love.



by Sawyer, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Hunger at its finest is a natural human instinct, but what ignites the desire within humans to create food so pleasing to the senses? Has this yearning for flavor overtime coincided with the development of evolutionary traits, such as our taste buds? I have come to ponder the idea of food typical to the multitude of cultures we have on this planet, perhaps more frequently during these last three months in Nicaragua. It is certain that my love for Nicaraguan cuisine has prompted this very post, yet it alone keeps me returning home every night at six to indulge in the miraculous dinner that my host family cooks for me. As a fairly new traveler — right now being my first time out of the U.S. — I have not failed to keep my senses keen and active during my walks through the city of León. I am constantly in search of a new dish to try, whether in simply be a customary snack or the authentic street food. Luckily, my host grandma sells food out in the street in front of our house, so if I’m feeling lazy, my craving can be satisfied three steps away. Needless to say, I have made it a goal of mine to taste the majority of typical Nica comida throughout the region I live in.

However, it isn’t just the act of eating the food that can paint this picture. At work, one of my good friends and coworkers, Isidro, also sells food from his house on weekends. As the school year was coming to an end, all the maestros planned on having a small celebration to complete the long year. It was Isidro’s job to cook the food for over twenty people, and he appointed me as his co-chef (what a professional title I have given myself). We were preparing to make sopa de res, or beef soup, a soup much more exquisite than normally made in the U.S. I say this due to the influx of ingredients that goes into this soup. Isn’t it just beef? No, here in Nicaragua full plátanos (bananas), elotes (ears of corn), yucca (plant root), and repollo (cabbage) make their way into sopa de res, along with many others. I was bursting with joy, as eating the common food here was one thing, but being able to create it seemed much more pleasurable. I was now building relationships, experiencing culture, and learning a new skill, all through the process of cooking. After cutting the meat and vegetables for hours on end, we realized that the wood burning stove would not cook this massive pot of soup fast enough, so we made a fire outside and, with the help of a few large rocks, we had a relatively unstable placement for our concoction. At one point, while stocking the fire, a rock slipped and the entire cauldron nearly tipped over. Luckily for us, a few blisters later and we managed to stabilize our campfire setup once again. We now have an anxiety ridden story to tell all of friends and family. My point is, cooking has brought us together on another level which can only be achieved by an intercambio of cultures. During a student party the following week, we made a traditional dish called Caballo Bayo, a great continuation for our exchange of ways of life. We now have plans to get together again so I can show Isidro how to cook a typical dish from the United States, an activity that will further strengthen out relationship and appreciation for other cultures.

Sopa de Res
Sopa de Res
!Mira los plátanos!
!Mira los plátanos!
Caballo Bayo
Caballo Bayo