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


by Erica, Tufts 1+4 Participant


During on-campus orientation, we were warned that the holidays in-country might be a little rough. A significant amount of time has passed, so I’ve become much more assimilated to my new environment and don’t feel waves of homesickness as often as I used to. However, when I saw my friends and family back in the U.S. heading home for Thanksgiving break, I wished I could do the same. I’ve never experienced the holidays without my family. And I really wanted to see my dog in her Thanksgiving bandana (that hurt the most).

That being said, my fellow Madrid fellows and I organized a group Thanksgiving dinner a few weeks in advance so that we could still celebrate with the same glorious food despite the slight change of scenery/country. We all signed up to cook a dish or two, and then we planned to meet at Evan’s house on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I’ve never really cooked a formal dish before, so I browsed the Food Network website for a recipe (even though all I had to make was roasted vegetables and buy bread). When I got to El Corte Inglés, I snagged some potatoes, carrots, and what I thought were sweet potatoes (pretty sure they were yams, but it remains unsolved). I also got some root vegetables that I’d never seen before, but they seemed Thanksgiving-y. I didn’t leave myself quite enough time to cook the vegetables, so I was late to Evan’s house and had to carry the platter while it was still hot. (I used my gloves as oven mitts.)

Once I arrived, we took some pictures and ate. Evan’s whole host family was there along with all the Madrid fellows and our two new Spanish friends, Ines and Sofia. There was a Spanish flag and an American flag side-by-side on the table and colorful decorations and hand-turkeys on the walls. As we went around the table to say what we were thankful for, I think I was the most grateful I’d ever been. Although I was away from my American family, the distance made me realize my appreciation for my home and all the people there. The people surrounding me at the dinner table made me realize how thankful I am to be here. And to be able to cook a dish without the parents, aunts, and uncles taking care of everything. And to be able to experience this cultural sharing with the people here who have become close to me. Thanksgiving wasn’t the same, but it was much more meaningful.

EU ‘Immigrant Life’

Madrid’s City Hall with ‘Refugees Welcome’ sign

by Mikel, Tufts 1+4 Participant

During my time in Europe I have experienced and witnessed the many services governments provide, from public health insurance and affordable public university, to reliable and extensive public transport. Despite its many advantages Europe also faces many issues including detraction from the EU, and the migrant crisis. As the migrant crisis is both a humanitarian and global issue that deeply interests me, I have been looking into the ‘immigrant life’ in Europe.

Europe has become a place of hope and opportunity for many people from around the world, a notion that was previously dominated by the US and its ‘American Dream’. During my interactions and experiences in Europe I have seen why this is so and have been able to compare the lives and opportunities for immigrants in Europe and the US.

Europe’s proximity to the several regions where the migrant crisis originates has made it the epicenter for immigration. Thousands of migrants make the treacherous journeys from their homes, crossing the Mediterranean as they attempt to enter Europe through Greece, Italy or Spain. But why has Europe not only become the epicenter for immigration, but also replaced the US as the ‘dreamland’ for immigrants?

Two brothers in my volunteer placement have a Cameroonian father and a Dominican mother. Their father works several odd, normally low-paying jobs and their mother lives in a medical center as she suffers from a degenerative neurological disease. In Spain, their mother’s medical care and housing is paid for through their public health insurance, a reality in Europe that is still a ‘socialist’ dream in the US. The two boys also have the opportunity to attend very affordable if not free public university. In Europe these two situations are not perfect, but the help provided by the government make immigrant and other vulnerable group’s lives’ easier and more productive as they do not have to worry about expensive medical bills and tuition.

These kinds of services not only make their new lives more secure but also help them quickly integrate and positively impact their new homes. I frequently eat at an Ecuadorian bar in a market made up of primarily Chinese, Peruvian, and Ecuadorian vendors. Talking to the owner, he compared his immigrant experience to that of his family who moved to the US. He said, “We arrived and could immediately receive good healthcare, send our kids to good schools, and universities, whereas my family in the US struggle to pay medical bills as they try to keep their small business afloat.” With their taxes directly paying for their healthcare and educational costs, immigrants in Spain are more easily able to open small businesses and send their children to university, contributing to the present and future economies of their new homes.

Europe, like the US, has witnessed rising xenophobia as extreme right groups gain more influence. Even still, due to its proximity and the EU’s recent dedication to accepting refugees and immigrants, Europe is becoming an ever more diverse place to live. An immigrants’ life is never an easy one, but services all Europeans accept and cherish, make a better life more attainable for even its newest of citizens.