1,440 Minutes


by Emerson, Tufts 1+4 Participant

I’m screaming. There’s a furry gray mouse in my room and my eleven year old host brother is chasing it around. With a machete. He doesn’t catch it, which I’m partially glad about. I didn’t really need mouse guts all over the floor.

While this event happened over a month ago, I feel it symbolizes Nicaragua for me. No, I don’t see machetes murdering mice on a daily basis. What I mean is the unexpected always seems to slither its way into my life in much larger ways than it would before. In the States, the unexpected for me was finding a mint condition Dixon Ticonderoga pencil on the ground, getting a hummus sandwich instead of the typical PBJ, or having a new face show up to a club meeting.

Now, my life encompasses surprises like going to a dance class to learn salsa, only to learn moves to Beyonce’s Single Ladies. Or showing up to work, only to learn the English teacher I’m helping isn’t going to show up, so I have to scramble to improvise lesson plans for the day. Or maybe, I’ll be innocently searching for some socks, and a furry friend will fly out, ready to be chased by some sharp objects.

It may sound weird, but as I pass the halfway point of my Bridge-Year, I can’t help but cherish these moments. Saying “I’ve been here for four months” and “I have four more months left here” hold the same time value on my approximately eight month trip, but the significance behind each is very different. While one suggests experiences and opportunities to build upon, the other clearly signifies a termination.  The exciting feeling of living one month in Nicaragua is going to convert into a somber mood of only having a month, a week, and eventually a day left. And the end of living in Nicaragua does feel like the end of a boundless adventure.

I’ll relish the rest of this adventure, but instead of looking back on it as a time long gone, I’m going to try to begin new escapades, small and large, in the States. And what about you? There are 1,440 minutes at your disposal tomorrow, how are you going to use them to find adventure?

True Love

Version 2

by Elaine, Tufts 1+4 Participant

I arrived in the Puerto Rico airport at 12 AM clutching my passport, a granola bar, and an overwhelming desire to get back on the plane.  It was my first day of vacation, and my first day outside of Nicaragua since I had left the United States in September.

And now, nearly four months later, I was back! (Well, in an official territory).  I was going to see my parents for the first time since August.  I had the next ten days off work to relax, sleep in an air-conditioned room and take warm water showers.  Until a few days before my departure I had been excited-ecstatic- to get back these old comforts. But when I found myself surrounded by distinctly American culture for the first time I felt a painful longing for my new home in Nicaragua.  And in that moment I realized I do truly love my new home.

I know, I know, what could an 18-year old know about love? Especially as an 18-year old who’s never been in a committed relationship, unless you count watching Breaking Bad, and only Breaking Bad for two months.  But I know that I do love Leon. I love its colors-the blinding white of the cathedral, the orange, purple and blue pastel houses that form a clashing kaleidoscope down the block.  The darkly-hued murals that hint at the political turmoil in Leon’s history.

I love the life that breathes out of every street corner. The high-pitched shouts of vendors balancing baskets on their heads. Tooortillllla and aguacaaaateeee.  The squeak of an old, rusted out bicycle as a family of five, all balanced on top of each other, rides past.  The shouts of greeting (Buenas!) to friends and strangers as you pass on the street. Whoever you are, you’re welcome here. All is good.

And love isn’t always perfect. It rarely is, and it’s these lows, these challenges that make an experience so unique and special.  Sometimes your host mom forgets that you’re still sleeping in your room before telling the workers to fumigate the house.  Sometimes you can’t stand the heat that leaves your clothes a sweaty mess. Sometimes loving something is an unpredictable roller coaster, and you’ve just got to hang tight, hold on and trust where the ride takes you.

Because it’s the little moments that have made this country home. What made me fall in love with Nicaragua, flaws and all.  Nights spent sitting at the dinner table talking about politics with my host mom, and current events with my older sister. The hilarious antics of my two-year old brother.  Coming home from the gym to a cold shower and a hot plate of gallo pinto.  The cool night breeze, carrying strains of salsa music, the fast-paced gossip of women sitting on their front stoops, and the loud pop of firecrackers constantly thrown by children into the darkening sky.

Vacation’s over now. I’m back in Nicaragua, back in my new home.  The next five months still seem like a challenge, but one that’s exciting and invigorating.  I’m with amazing friends in a crazy, vivacious country that I love. And yes, I know there are still difficult times ahead.  Sometimes I’ll forget that I was once longing to be back in Leon.  But whenever that happens I now know what to say.

Buenas! All is good. Take your time. Find your place. You’ll love it here.

The Learning Journey

by Daniel, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Learning. Since the dawn of humanity, learning has been the cornerstone of life. But school, now that’s a different story. Schools have been around for over 1500 years, and while some classrooms have smart boards and others have iPads, the fundamental way we teach, and learn, has stayed the same.

I, along with almost every other teenager in the developed world, spent the last twelve years sitting. In science classrooms, in english classrooms, in history classrooms; always learning different things but always sitting in rows or circles, scribbling down the teachers’ every word. But if you take an evolutionary perspective, sitting is not really what a 15 year old should be doing. At a time when we have tons of pent up energy, we spend our days still; learning almost solely by listening.

After 12 years, I was ready for a change. I knew I would have at least 4 more years of this antiquated model and I needed a year of something different; I needed a year of learning by living. But not just living in the comfort of home, living in the world. A world that today is unfathomably large (think about it, you may know a couple thousand people but there are 7 billion people out there. 7 BILLION!) and unquestionably strange (take this for instance). But there’s a lot more to the world than any 18 year old could know, trust me. If you just take the time to explore it and explore yourself you will never, ever, regret it.

The one line that stuck with me throughout the whole college application process was; “No one regrets taking a bridge year.” I looked at university after university and ringing in the back of my head this same line; “no one regrets taking a gap year”. So, try to envision yourself four years down the road; do you want to have experienced the world or do you want to have stayed comfortable in your world. I knew I would regret it if I didn’t, so I took the leap, and now I am here. Now I am a baby again, a baby Brazilian, finding his way through an unknown language. Learning to walk, to speak, to sustain myself on what at times seems like an alien world.

You don’t need a rocket ship to find an alien culture. They all around you: your neighbors, your fellow bus-riders, even your friends and family. But some still say; “why do I need to explore other cultures? I’ve got my friends, my little bubble, I don’t need to change. My bubble won’t ever burst.” Well, if a hermit crab never left his shell, how would he know there wasn’t a better shell, a better world, waiting just around the corner (Imagine! A hermit crab paradise! A wardrobe of multicolored shells and an endless supply of scrumptious decaying wood, leaf litter, plants and grasses waiting just outside his calcium carbonate domain but the poor hermit crab never knew it was there because he just wanted to watched Spongebob on Netflix inside his claustrophobic cave (PSA: Spongebob was removed from Netflix in 2013 😨)).

After almost 100 days (HOLY COW! It’s already been 100 days?) living in Brazil with an amazing host family and evermore interesting culture the only thing I can say is; “I couldn’t have been more right.” Doing a bridge year, learning by living, is doing college the right way. I can only hope that one day, it will be the only way.

Unexpected Parenthood

justin (2)

by Justin, Tufts 1+4 Participant

First, I’d like to apologize for the  misleading title. Don’t worry, no one here is “embarazada” or expecting children. However, this title does reflect my experience in my placement here in Madrid. For the last four months, I have been a father figure to four boys. The more I read that sentence in my head, the more ridiculous it sounds, especially considering I am only three years older than the eldest. But if you were in my shoes, you would feel the same way. This journey has been filled with the unexpected.

Lets begin with the fact that I was under the impression I would be working with little kids. I thought that I would enter the home and a bunch of little faces would come running at meet me ready to ask me to play with them. I thought I would have to teach them to not pick their noses or to not eat the glue. Instead, the boy that opened the door and welcomed me in was TWICE MY HEIGHT… Okay perhaps I am exaggerating, he is only slightly taller than me. To my surprise, I am actually working with boys from 12 to 15 years old. I have to admit, after realizing the kids were a lot older I thought my job would be super easy. No changing diapers, no potty training, and no glue eating. However, I see now that the job is not easier, it’s actually  a completely different job which in fact may be harder. These boys needed a lot of guidance. They had no manners, little respect for adults, and only wanted to play. Getting them to do chores was a constant battle and homework required a lecture about their future. I am seeing first hand what it is like to be a parent. I’ve even represented them at parent-teacher conferences and social-services meetings.

In these nine months, I need to work on teaching them English, manners, and respect. I need to encourage doing well in school and motivate doing chores. I need to help them with typical teenage problems as well as their individual needs. I need to inspire integrity, confidence, and appreciation. And I need to keep them safe. Whether I am teaching them how to properly make a bed or helping with diabetes, ADHD, learning disabilities and anxiety, I try to be there for them when they need me. I am a teacher, mentor, protector, provider, and a companion. I need to give advice and answer all the awkward questions about life. I am not the first volunteer that they’ve lived with, but apparently I have made the biggest difference. How? I honestly don’t know. I am just doing my best to ensure that they learn and develop like any other child. The same way I would treat my own children.

Thus, “Unexpected Parenthood” is the perfect title! I know I rambled in that last paragraph, but those are all the thoughts going through my head. Those are all my goals in an attempt to invent a dad we never had.

My Expanding Family

gonggaby Gongga, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Being a part of a family, a special kind, that consists of seven children who came from all different backgrounds and who all went through difficult situations, is hard. The trust, for starters, is difficult to build because many of the children were previously betrayed by their loved ones. Also, recently, they just moved from their former lovely homes in the suburbs of Madrid into the city itself. This was very difficult for them in the beginning, and as they were transitioning into a new neighborhood, suddenly they have an outsider… me…coming into their lives.

The past 3 and a half months have been a new learning experience for all of us. I know how it feels to leave your home and move to a completely new place because it happened to me so many times throughout my life. Many of these children are afraid to share their feelings, so I started to tell them what was on my mind and how I’ve felt throughout my short time in Madrid. I shared lots of silly, embarrassing things that I’ve done, and it often made them laugh out loud. I wanted them to feel that it is okay to share your feelings and say what comes to mind.

My feeling of being an outsider changed the other night when I went to a street amusement park with the children and one of the educators. When I saw those attractions, it suddenly brought me back to my old childhood memories. Walking in the street at night with the children and holding hands together made me feel like I’m part of their family. I remember how special it made me feel, when one of the children would occasionally run up to me and hug me saying, “Gongga, Gongga, Gongga,” and I would hug him back and laugh with him. Even though it might look weird from an outsider’s point of view, a petite Asian girl blending in with a family of Spanish children so perfectly, I remember feeling like I was watching my own children at play when I saw Carlos and his sister on the Bumper Cars. I know there can and will be good and bad times, and feelings are constantly changing, but I know I care about these children and I want to be a part of their lives.

gongga 2

The Arrow

zoeby Zoe, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Culture shock. Homesickness. Loneliness. Lingual incompetence. FOMO (fear of missing out). Just a few on the list of difficulties I should be prepared to face during my eight months in Brazil. It was no surprise when these topics were introduced in both orientation at Tufts and upon arrival in Curitiba for in-country orientation, as they were things I’d been worrying about and mentally-preparing myself for since March of last year. So, by mid-September when I left Curitiba and moved to my permanent host community in Imbituba, I felt prepared. I felt as though I’d been briefed on all the problems I could possibly face and I knew exactly how to deal with them, get back on track, and move on. But where’s the challenge in that? I thought that because I’d paid attention in orientation, I had a manual on how to deal with every problem that could possibly be thrown at me. This would be true if life was in black and white. The problem is that about 99% of this world is grey area, every situation is different, and most problems cannot be anticipated.

Rain. I never thought it would present such a problem, primarily because when I thought of Brazil, an intense weather pattern spanning the entire country never crossed my mind. I came with the expectation of sun day in and day out, rather than constant rain. I never guessed that one of the first words I’d learn in Portuguese would be “chuva,” and that I’d see the sun only five times in my first two months in country.

In Imbituba, I worked at an organization called Projeto Baleia Franca, which monitors that activity of the Southern Right Whale in this area of Brazil. Unfortunately, monitoring was canceled more often that not due to the unusual weather conditions, and there was little activity on the days we could work as the whales migrated north early this year. The problem with the rain was that it instigated the types of problems on which I was briefed at orientation. The types of problems I was expecting to have in the first place. The unexpected amount of free time allowed more time to think about my family, friends, and old life I left behind in London and the United States.The rain made me pity myself and it gave me a negative mindset.

About four weeks ago, I moved north from Imbituba to the island of Florianopolis. Here, I work as a volunteer an organization called R3 Animal which rescues, rehabilitates, and releases all types of animals brought in as a result of injury, sickness, illegal trafficking, or absence of parental care. I leave my house at 6:25 each morning, run three miles to the center of the town in which I live, catch another bus to work, work from 8am until 5pm, and then make my way home again. It’s an incredibly busy day that requires a concrete schedule. It’s tiring, but being on the go makes me happy.

Yes, it’s still raining. No, I don’t harbor such resentment towards the rain anymore. It’s not because I actually like it. Like anyone, I’d much rather be lying on the beach than having to constantly peel wet clothes from my body and hang them to dry. But I thank the rain for teaching me so much about myself. The two months in Imbituba were challenging and uncomfortable, but I look back on those two months and can’t believe how much I learned about myself. I learned that I need structure in my life, and that I don’t do well with a blank schedule. I learned that I do better in an environment in which I have more independence and am able to change settings when necessary. And maybe one of the most difficult things; I learned to accept something that I could do absolutely nothing to change: Mother Nature.

“An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. When life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means it’s going to launch you into something great. So just focus, and keep aiming.” This year is all about difficulties. And if I leave Brazil in April having had more challenges than comforts, I’ll feel successful. Right now is about focusing and refocusing, aiming and re-aiming. I’m not sure when I’ll be launched but when I am, I know I’ll hit something great. Something I wouldn’t have dreamed of hitting before this year.