Ch ch ch changes!

gabe2by Gabriel, Tufts 1+4 Participant

One memory has continually popped into my mind during my time in Brazil. I remember my mother saying to me, “You don’t realize how lucky we are, you have so much to be thankful for.” I shot back a reply of “No we aren’t, why do you always say that?” Meanwhile, in my head,  I was listing all of the problems that I and my family had. We are poor for American standards. My mom and dad had separated and had a terrible custody battle for much of my childhood. I had recently lost my father. I share the responsibility of settling my father’s affairs. Almost all of my family lives at least three hours away. The list of my ungrateful thoughts goes on and this is the mindset I came to Brazil with.

I had a similar regard to my mom and brother. Being a teenager (on which my mom liked to blame my attitude), I was continually frustrated by my family. I wished my mom would have made that call for me or sent that letter. I wished she would stop nagging me about eating enough, about where I was going and about working too much. She told me for several months before I left that I would regret spending so much of my summer working and not spending time with my family before leaving. I sure do. I was always frustrated with my brother about his lackadaisical attitude toward things I thought were of the utmost importance.

How did they deal with me?

I feel like a different person in the way that I now look at my life in the United States. I have an amazing mother who I can talk to at any time of the day or night about anything. She does anything she can for me and the only reason I have to be annoyed with her is that she is a different person from me. Different in an amazing way. My brother simply has different priorities. He would help me with anything I needed, from fixing my truck to letting my friends and I borrow his snowmobile, just on his schedule, not mine. Not to mention that he is my best friend. My family and I were able to buy our first house several years ago with the help of my grandfather, where we and all of our animals are finally home to stay. No matter how difficult it was, I have always had what I needed, even when money was tight. Though some events in my life are never going to be positive in my mind, I am now able to see more clearly.

Brazil has allowed me to step back from my life and gain a new perspective. I now miss my family like crazy, more than I had ever imagined I would. I have been able to see how many families are much more broken than mine is. I now realize just how many people in our world live in poverty or much below American standards. I have been blessed with an amazing host family during my time here and they have unknowingly led me to these revelations. When I was pouting in my room on Christmas morning after receiving a happy birthday video from my mom including a song, lots of love, and even my dogs, my host family surprised me with a big birthday party complete with cake, ice cream, balloons and banners. I am trying to show them my appreciation as I wait for the chance to bring this attitude home to my real family.


justin madeline parkby Madeline, Tufts 1+4 Participant

January 18, 2016

Ahhhh!! We’re officially half way through our bridge year abroad!! What a time to be alive! I have this app called DreamDays where I can see both how many days I have been here in Madrid (138) and how many I have to go (137)! It also lets me count down to trips and such which is really nice.

One of the most important things I’ve learned by being abroad is not to wish time away. It’s OK to acknowledge that it’s passing of course, but the most important thing is to stay focused on what’s in front of you. That way, you can enjoy every interaction and every sight you come across. You can also enjoy your emotions more because you’re not pushing them aside worrying about feelings of the future. Obviously there have been hard times here where I was thinking about the future. I have found that I love home and love my family and friends so much that being so far away is hard sometimes. But at the same time, the more I enjoy the moments here the less I miss home!

I’ve traveled a lot this first half, and I definitely plan on continuing that. I also want to try to stay in Madrid a little bit more and enjoy the city. It’s so beautiful and lively with so many people I can meet. I’m really excited about that too.

My work is amazing and I’m getting more and more involved with passing time. As relationships and trust build that naturally occurs. I love the girls I’m working with so much, it will definitely be hard to leave at the end of my time here. I’ve seen the youngest, Eva, learn to read. I’ve seen Ana accelerate in her English skills. I’ve seen Leyre come a long way in the area of respect and kindness. It’s been a journey for all of us together which makes it that much more special.

I’m so lucky to have this experience. There have moments when I’m walking across the side of a mountain and wondering at the view. There have been moments when I’m standing in front of a masterpiece that is a few centuries old. There have been laughs and smiles exchanged with all sorts of people. Each time, I’m a little bit more grateful and a little bit more in awe of my experiences.

Cheers to a second amazing half of my European adventure and service year!

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.