My 1+4 Story: Madeline


“I could not be happier that I took a year for myself between high school and college. It’s not that I didn’t feel ready for college, but that now, I really know how to engage and appreciate my experience here. My bridge year taught me about my passions and gave me time to explore the way the world works before I had to apply those things to my life here on campus. Plus, now I can connect with my all of my Tufts peers in a totally new and exciting way because of my bridge year experience.”-Madeline Weir

Madeline is now a first-year student at Tufts, where she is studying International Relations.


My 1+4 Story: Justin

This is 1+4 alumnus Justin Mejia:


Justin was a Spain fellow in 2015-2016, and wrote this at the conclusion of his bridge-year:

“This Bridge year was the best thing that could have happened after graduating high school. Being able to explore new and amazing places while making a difference was truly incredible. I learned so much about the world and about myself which makes me feel ready and excited for college. ”

Justin has brought his 1+4 experiences with him and has done some incredible things on the Tufts campus already!

My 1+4 Story: Wildflowers

Starting today, we’ll be doing a weekly My 1+4 Story feature. These stories will focus on the experiences of our fellows in choosing the 1+4 program, and/or the impact of the 1+4 experience. Our first My 1+4 Story comes from current Spain fellow Jiyoon.

by Jiyoon, Tufts 1+4 Participant

“Normality is a paved road; it’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow.” –Vincent Van Gogh

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For most of my life, I’ve been walking on the paved road. Sure, I excelled enough to get to where I am now, but still never really got off the beaten track. Introverted, quiet, polite, good grades, decent musician, frequent volunteer. Terrified of being put on the spot, slightly insecure and unconfident, usually conformed to the norms and status quo. I worked hard even though I didn’t really know where I was going, and fostered big dreams without knowing how exactly I was going to achieve them. Of course, along the way, I saw the dandelions peeking through the cracks in the concrete and smelled the wildflowers in the distance. I was comfortable, I was happy. But at the same time, I always felt like I was waiting. Waiting for some kind of big change, waiting for an opportunity to do something more, something crazy, something different.

When I received my acceptance letter from Tufts, I thought that was it. Moving to the other side of the country for college and beginning a new chapter of my life. Pretty crazy, right? However, it’s fairly common, and I was still going to college, just like everyone else.

Then I remembered the Tufts 1+4 program. During the college application process it got buried in my memory among the piles of paperwork, essays, and exams, but after committing to Tufts, I thought, “why not?” An entire year abroad in a different country, traveling, brushing up on my Spanish, and probably having the time of my life? Sign me up! In the back of my mind I knew it was a scary change, but I somehow had the guts to do it. I fit my life in two suitcases and left for the other side of the world, more than 5,000 miles from friends, family, and home.

When I set foot in Spain, I immediately knew I successfully threw myself off the paved road. I naively thought I would have a smooth transition and immediately start seeing the flowers.

Oh, how young and foolish I was.

I’ve never stumbled so hard in my life. I wobbled and fell all over the place on an off-beaten, rocky trail. It turns out, four years of high school Spanish is helpful, but nowhere near sufficient in understanding a native speaker. I could barely understand anyone and was incapable of saying most things that I wanted to. Combined with my introverted personality, I was a mute. Growing up bilingual, I was used to understanding and being able to speak more than the average person. The sudden language barrier definitely took a big toll on me in the beginning. I missed the food I grew up with and the comfort of being in my own house where I didn’t feel like a guest. I missed the smells, the sounds, and the rhythm of everyday life.

But, as they say, no pain, no gain.

Now, halfway through my gap year, I can’t imagine not having taken this opportunity. I’m forever changed as a person in so many ways. During my 18 years of existence, choosing this gap year has by far been the best decision I’ve ever made.

I still have a long ways to go with my Spanish, but I can now understand the majority of what I hear and my ability to communicate has improved more than it ever would have if I had not come to Madrid. I’ve had the opportunity to work with the sweetest, most precious little kids who have inspired and reminded me of the important things in life. From being a student having to ask permission to use the bathroom, I now find myself in the position granting permission. It’s a weird feeling being in a position of authority, but it’s also made me realize how much I’ve grown up over the years. I’ve made friends from all over the world, including my fellow 1+4 cohort, many of whom I probably would never have become friends with if I hadn’t done this program. Meeting and talking to people from all corners of Europe and the U.S in a single day has become a common occurrence. I’ve traveled throughout Spain, discovered the gem that is Portugal, and even had the opportunity to travel to Africa. I’ve witnessed so many different cultures and realized that different never equals wrong. Through traveling, I’ve gained a sense of independence that’s so unique to this experience and so incredibly empowering. Over winter break, I got to show my family around my new home. I can navigate my way through Madrid and the rest of Spain with ease, and with each passing week, I’m falling more and more in love with Madrid. It’s definitely going to be a place I continuously come back to for the rest of my life. I get to see what I’ve only heard about in history textbooks right before my eyes, along with the most breathtaking views, architecture, and scenery. To be let loose with no borders, no boundaries, and no limitations is unimaginably uplifting after years of having to work within a system, following the rules and doing what’s expected.

This was all a gradual change, and I don’t know when exactly the flowers started to grow. Or maybe they had always been there since the beginning and it just took time for me to see them. But now, I’m running madly through a field of wildflowers—walking this unfamiliar path isn’t always easy, but it’s crazy, it’s exciting, and it’s wild.

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.